The short answer to this question is "No!" The Church of Jesus Christ will not suffer the wrath of the Lamb.1 The wrath of God is the judgment poured out on those who have rejected Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Since believers are not guilty, they cannot be punished and will not suffer the wrath of God.
Is tribulation equal to wrath?
Having said that, I need to make the distinction between wrath and tribulation. The two words are also two separate words in the original Greek. Both words involve the suffering of the effected parties. However, the source of the suffering is quite different. Tribulation is the unrighteous persecution of believers by unbelievers. Wrath is the righteous punishment of God poured out on those who reject Him. The Church will not suffer the wrath of God, but will be raptured or spared in some way from His judgment.
Why would God allow the Church to suffer through the Great Tribulation?
However, I believe that God will not remove the Church from the Great Tribulation that will be exercised against her by the unrighteous. The reason that God allows tribulation against His Church is several- fold. First, tribulation produces perseverance:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; (Romans 5:3, NSAB)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. (Romans 12:11-14)
In addition, tribulation requires believers to rely upon the power of the Spirit instead of their own means. The persecuted church has always been more faithful and prayerful to Christ.
Does the Bible promise that believers will escape tribulation?
No! In fact, Jesus promised that we would suffer persecution for our faith:
"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Other passages tell of the tribulation suffered by the early Church:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
'Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Jesus described how believers would suffer tribulation at the hands of the unrighteous;
"Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. ...for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall." (Matthew 24:9, 21)
God's mercy in tribulation
However, God, in His sovereignty, will end the suffering of the Church, rapture believers, and pour out His wrath on the unrighteous.
"And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. (Matthew 24:22)
"But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31)
In addition, the book of Revelation describes the huge number of believers who have been raptured out of the Great Tribulation:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes... And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?" And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9-14)
Pretribulation rapture proponents claim that this uncountable number of believers are Jews who are converted between the rapture of the Church and the end of the Great Tribulation. However, the number is much too large for this to be reasonable. This same book (Revelation) describes an army consisting of 200 million men.2 Obviously, a number which is uncountable must be much large than this (probably at least 1 billion). There are not enough Jews in Israel (nor is it likely that that large a number will ever be in Israel) to account for this large a number of believers. Therefore, this number must include the Church, which comes out of the Great Tribulation.
From these studies, one can see that there is a significant difference between the wrath of God (which is judgment directed at the unrighteous) and the tribulation (which is the persecution directed at believers). Throughout the Bible, God is consistent in His treatment of humans. He allows individuals to persecute His people, and rarely interferes with that choice. At the times of the end, God will allow the unrighteous to persecute believers to an extent that "has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall," before ending their reign of terror. God then removes believers from the earth before executing judgment on the unrighteous. The Bible makes it clear that the Church will not suffer the wrath of God.1
Although I like the NIV for its readability, it suffers some problems, especially regarding this issue. The word "tribulation" is only used once (Revelation 7:14). In the other instances, it uses words such as "trouble" and "persecution", so that it is impossible to know what the original Greek is referring to. The NASB does a much better job, although even it is not perfect, since it also uses other words occasionally. If you are looking for a good (and free!) electronic Bible reference, please check e-sword.net.
- Commentary on Revelation - An excellent commentary of the entire book of Revelation, in addition to information on the rapture.
- Eschatology by Scott - A nice summary with tables of parallel passages.
- The Watchmans Post End times prophecy, second coming of Jesus, news and commentary.
Before God's Wrath by H.L. Nigro, a friend of GodAndScience.org. This new book looks at the rapture question from the scriptures (both Old and New Testament). It is very well documented and includes many figures that compare parallel passages in the scriptures. It is endorsed by Marvin Rosenthal, President of Zion's Hope. According to Mr. Rosenthal, "Each month I receive dozens of articles and manuscripts to evaluate or endorse for publication. I do not endorse what I am not genuinely enthusiastic about. I am enthusiastic about this book. Within its pages, the readers will not find speculation or sensationalism. However, they will find a powerful and convincing presentation for the chronological sequence of the Lord's second coming and its practical implication for the believer." A highly recommended book!
The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church by Marvin J. Rosenthal. This is the classic pre-wrath interpretation of the Lord's second coming by Marvin Rosenthal, President of Zion's Hope and The Holy Land Experience.
The Rapture Question Answered : Plain and Simple by Robert D. Van Kampen
Post-Tribulation and Pre-Wrath by Don Montgomery
- Much more then, having now been justified by His blood,
we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:9)
and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
- And the number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. (Revelation 9:16)
We are what we think.
- 04/21/2015 02:56 AM
What Is Biblical Inerrancy? (Part 2)
Last week, we discussed the definition of biblical inerrancy and how this important doctrine works in areas of apparent disagreement between science and Scripture. Here, RTB editor Maureen Moser and I talk about rigidity and flexibility in inerrancy. **** I … Continue reading
- 04/14/2015 02:11 AM
What Is Biblical Inerrancy? (Part 1)
Last month, I discussed canonicity and how we got the Protestant Bible (see part 1, part 2, and part 3). This week, RTB editor Maureen Moser rejoins me for a conversation about biblical inerrancy—a topic of much debate and importance … Continue reading
- 04/07/2015 02:12 AM
World Religions: The Buddha and the Christ
Among the world’s great religious leaders, only two had such a profound impact that contemporaries inquired as to the very nature of their being.1 People wondered whether Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ) were more than … Continue reading
- 03/31/2015 05:56 PM
God Incarnate: Jesus Christ’s Unique Identity
There’s no denying that Jesus Christ ranks high among the most controversial figures in human history. Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both true God (the second Person of the Trinity) and true man (the Incarnate Son of God). … Continue reading
- 03/24/2015 02:27 AM
The Resurrection: Christianity’s Most Dangerous Idea
Originally published in Reasons to Believe’s ezine, New Reasons to Believe, vol. 2, no. 3 (2010) “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”1 This line—from my favorite book in … Continue reading
- 03/17/2015 02:55 AM
More Deaths in the Name of God—or No Gods?
Originally published in Reasons to Believe’s ezine, New Reasons to Believe, vol. 2, no. 1 (2010) Great evil has been done in the name of Christ. This charge, a frequent objection to historic Christianity raised especially by the new atheist … Continue reading
- 03/10/2015 02:02 AM
God as the Source of Knowledge
Originally published in RTB’s ezine, New Reasons to Believe, vol. 1, no. 1 (2009) Does the Bible indicate where knowledge comes from? Since evolutionary processes can’t guarantee true beliefs naturalism as a worldview faces insurmountable problems. For its part, the … Continue reading
- 03/03/2015 02:08 AM
World Religions: The Sage and the Savior
Among the world’s great religious leaders, two became far-reaching moral instructors of humanity. Confucius (the sage) laid down the ethical foundation for much of Asian civilization. Jesus of Nazareth (the Savior) taught moral lessons that distinctly shaped the ethical nature … Continue reading
- 02/24/2015 02:31 AM
How We Got the Bible, Part 3
This week we’ll be finishing up a series on the biblical canon, a topic that has been a source of discussion, debate, and controversy since the beginning of Christianity. We’ve covered the doctrine of divine inspiration and standards for recognizing … Continue reading
- 02/18/2015 12:07 PM
How We Got the Bible, Part 2
Last week RTB editor Maureen Moser and I began a discussion of the biblical canon, including the doctrine of inspiration and the criteria for recognizing canon, particularly for the New Testament. But as we noted, the branches of Christendom view … Continue reading
Last Modified June 21, 2008