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).

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