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The Church And The Great Tribulation

Nothing should unite God's children into a closer fellowship than the
blessed hope of the coming of our Lord. This was the case, when the
Holy Spirit, almost a hundred years ago, restored to His people this
hope, and brought about a revival of the study of prophecy. The
midnight cry, "Behold the Bridegroom! Go ye forth to meet Him," was
then sounded, and those who heard and believed the blessed hope
separated themselves from all which is not according to sound doctrine,
and in so doing manifested once more the oneness of the body of Christ,
the church, and the fellowship of the Saints. Such ought to be the
results of a real faith in His coming.

One of the questions which has agitated believers in the premillennial
Coming of our Lord is the question of the relation of the true church
to that final period of our age, which is designated as the great
tribulation. When the blessed hope was first again brought to light,
clear distinction was made between the Coming of the Lord for His
Saints (1 Thess. iv:13-18) and the Coming of the Lord with His Saints
(Zech. xiv:5; Rev. xix:14). The imminency of His Coming was a
prominent part of the prophetic testimony of those bygone days. Then
the teaching was introduced by some that the Lord cannot come at any
time, that the church is destined to pass, like the rest of the world,
through the great tribulation, suffer under Antichrist and experience
the judgment-wrath of God. This theory has caused much division and
strife among believers in the Return of our Lord, and does so still.

In taking up this question concerning the church and the tribulation,
we shall first see what the church and the destiny of the church is,
and then examine the teaching of the Word as to the tribulation.

I. What is the Church and the Destiny of the Church?

The church is an altogether New Testament institution. Nowhere in the
Old Testament Scriptures is there said anything about the church, the
expression so often used, the Old Testament church, or, the Jewish
church is therefore incorrect. It springs from the view that Israel,
the seed of Abraham, was the church in the past and that since Israel
has rejected Christ, the Christian Church has become Israel and all the
promises made to Israel are now being fulfilled in a spiritual way.
This theory plays havoc with the Word of God and leads into confusion.
The presentday condition of Christendom is to a great extent the result
of this erroneous view. Israel is not the church, nor has the church
taken the place of Israel. All who believed in Old Testament times
were saved by grace, in the same way as believing sinners are saved
during this dispensation. They were Saints, as we are Saints. But
where is there in any portion of the Scriptures of the Old Testament
(so-called) a statement that these Jewish believers formed the church
of God, the body and the bride of Christ? Israel was not the church in
the past and it is equally impossible that the people Israel in their
future day of restoration and blessing can become the church. Israel's
calling is earthly; the calling of the church is a heavenly calling.
Israel will some day possess the earthly Jerusalem while the church
will be in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Our Lord mentioned the church for the first time. In the Gospel of
Matthew xvi:16-18 we find the following words:

"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the
living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou,
Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but
my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art
Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it."

Peter had made his great inspired confession of Christ as the Son of
the living God. Upon this confession the Lord said, "Blessed art thou,
Simon Bar-Jona." Each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of
God shares this blessedness. He called Simon by a new name, "Thou art
Peter;" which means "a stone." Then the Lord announced that upon this
rock He would build His church. He did not mean Peter, or else our
Lord would have said, "Upon thee will I build my church." He speaks of
"this rock" which is He Himself, the risen and living Son of God. He,
and not Peter, is the rock upon which the Church of Christ is built.
We see that the Lord speaks of the church as something in the future at
that time. It was not then in progress, but He said, "I will build
my church." The word church means "to call out" (ecclesia), and
denotes a company of people who are called out and called together for
a certain purpose. The Lord calls this outcalled company "my church."
The formation of this church could only begin after the work of
redemption on the cross had been accomplished. He had first to suffer
and to die; He had to rise from the dead and ascend upon high; the Holy
Spirit had to come from heaven before this church and its building
could begin on earth. Therefore He said "I will build my church;" not
I am building it now, or it has been building since Adam's day, but "I
will build."

The day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out marks the beginning of
this church on earth. The company of believers who were waiting for
the promised baptism with the Spirit (about 120-Acts i:15) were on the
day of Pentecost by that baptism united into a body, the church. Ever
since then all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and are born again,
are put by the same spirit as members into that body. Of this we read
in 1 Cor. xii:13: "For by our Spirit are we all baptized into one body,
whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have
been all made to drink into one Spirit." On the day of Pentecost
nothing was made known of the beginning of the church. Peter did not
mention a word about the church. The full revelation concerning the
church was given through the Apostle Paul. Of this we read in Ephes.

"For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given
me to you ward; how that by revelation he made known unto me the
mystery (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may
understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages
was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his
holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be
fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in
Christ by the gospel; whereof I was made a minister, according to the
gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his

The Apostle Paul states in these verses that he was made the channel of
a revelation concerning a mystery which was not made known in former
ages unto the sons of men. This mystery is that the Gentiles should be
fellowheirs, and of the same body. The body of which he speaks, is the
church. In that body Jews and Gentiles are gathered into one, as the
one new man "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor
uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all
and in all." Of this bringing into one we read in the Gospel of John
(chapter x) where our Lord spoke of entering the sheepfold (Judaism)
and leading out His sheep. Then He mentioned other sheep, which were
not of His fold (Gentiles): "Them also I must bring, and they shall
hear my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." He came
and led His first sheep out of the Jewish fold. On the day of
Pentecost these Jewish believers were constituted the Church. That
Gentiles should be added to that body was not made known then. It was
revealed to the Apostle Paul. But the Lord indicates this fact here
when He speaks of the other sheep. This He mentioned likewise in His
prayer: "That they all (who believe on Him) may be one; as Thou,
Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us, that
the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John xvii:21). The
Epistle to the Ephesians, in which the Spirit of God reveals this
mystery, makes known the glory of the church, the body of Christ. He
is the head of that body and as such the church is His own fulness,
"the fulness of Him who filleth all in all" (Eph. i:23). Every member
in that body shares the life of the risen, glorified head. Every
member is quickened together with Christ, raised up and seated in the
heavenlies in Christ Jesus (ii:5-6). And furthermore we read that the
members of this body, that is, all true believers, saved by grace and
born again, are made nigh by the blood of Christ, and have access by
one Spirit unto the Father. "Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers
and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the
household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and
prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all
the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the
Lord. In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God
through the Spirit" (ii:19-22). Such is the church the body of Christ.
Every member in Christ and Christ in every member, each believer made
nigh by blood, accepted in the beloved One, indwelt by the Holy Spirit
and one Spirit with the Lord. The church is therefore the temple of
God, the habitation of God through the Spirit.

Besides this life-relation of the church to the Head in glory, there is
also a love-relation. Of this Ephesians v:21-33 bears witness. The
church is the bride of Christ. He loved the church and gave Himself
for it. She is part of that travail of His soul which He saw, the joy
which was set before Him, for which He endured the cross and despised
the shame. He also sanctifies the church and cleanseth it with the
washing of water by the Word, and finally He will present it to Himself
a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but
that it should be holy and without blemish. She is the pearl of great
price for which He gave all. Her destiny is to be with Him in glory,
to be like Him and to share His glory. For this true church there is
no condemnation and no wrath, nor anguish and tribulation, but glory,
honor and peace (Rom. ii:9-10). Wrath is coming for the world, but the
Lord Jesus delivers His church from the wrath to come (1 Thess. i:10).
"For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our
Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. v:9).

Next: What Is The Tribulation?

Previous: Who Will Be Caught Up When The Lord Comes?

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