Tribulation, Suffering and the Believer

How should we think about suffering as things darken all around us?

As things in the West get darker each passing day, it is to be expected that Christians will cast their minds to things like biblical prophecy and how we might understand where all of this is heading. Are we living in the last days? Is Christ coming at any moment? Is this or that character the Antichrist? Has all this been predicted by Scripture?

These and other questions often arise at times like this. But before weighing into some of this, let me say a few things first. Here is a dilemma I often have: at times I very much feel I need to write on a particular topic, but I know that if I do all hell will likely break out because some Christians can be so obsessed with their fav view on things that they will go to war if you dare to offer a somewhat different take on things.

No, I am not talking about things like saying Trump is the Messiah, or Trump is the Antichrist. Both those topics would quickly result in major fireworks. But here I am referring to certain aspects about the end times. Eschatology is often a controversial area, since there can be so many opposing views that one can hold to, and some believers really do not like it if their views are challenged by others.

I too have been guilty of this in the past, holding on to one particular view, and denouncing all other folks as heretics and worse. I was quite convinced that my views were the only correct ones, and everyone else needed to be brought into line – or else!

But hopefully I have matured a bit over the years and I have learned that there are other legitimate views that one can hold on these matters, including how one interprets Revelation, or what one’s take on the millennium is. As to the former, see the various options here: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/12/26/bible-study-helps-revelation/

As to the latter, see some of the options here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/30/on-the-millennium-part-one/

So I no longer ferociously hold on to views about a pre-trib rapture and dispensationalism and so on. Indeed, I can fully respect most other views now, and see that there is biblical and theological merit in many of them. I have not denied the faith for having shifted my understandings on these matters. I have just grown a bit over time, and have learned that there is some room to move here.

Let me note that I really do not want this piece to become another battleground. And I actually do not need to be taught about these things. As I say, I was an avid believer in these matters earlier on, and in many respects was a bit of an expert, having taught them for many years. So there is no need to come here to “correct” me or to teach me what these beliefs are all about thanks.

Also, I believe it can be a fair question to ask why people cling to certain beliefs. When it comes to this issue, it may well be that careful study and reading has led folks to those conclusions. Fair enough. If you think dispensationalism and a pre-trib rapture are the best understandings of Scripture, fine. Go for it.

But I realise that not everyone does carefully study and research on these matters. For various other reasons they may just adhere to such teachings without having done a lot of homework. And we have to be honest here: for some believers at least, they simply do not want to suffer, and a pre-trib rapture belief helps them a lot.

Sure, no one wants to suffer. I don’t. But I ask: Is it possible that for some folks at least, they avidly run with a view like this, not because they have so thoroughly studied it and rejected all the other options, but because it gives them some comfort to know that they will not go through some tribulation period? That is a fair question, and one that I think we can all ask of ourselves – not just on this matter but on others as well.

In this regard, I have shared before a quote from Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch woman who suffered so greatly under the Nazis. No, she is not infallible, so she could be wrong here. But I believe what she and the Chinese pastor have said at the very least need to be taken seriously. The quote is this:

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly: “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.” I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it. We are next. endtimepilgrim.org/corrie.htm

I would not refer to them as false teachers as she does. But my point again is this: Yes, it is possible that the rapture folks are correct. But it is also possible that they are not correct. And if there is no such thing as believers being whisked away before a time of great suffering, then the question is: will you be able to cope? Will your faith take a beating if it turns out your views on this were incorrect? I think these are fair and honest questions to raise.

One further point I can mention here ties much of this together. I recently saw this exchange on the social media. It actually was under a post of mine in which I asked if God might be withdrawing his hand of protection from America and the West. That is another fair question to at least consider. The brief exchange was this:

Guy: Pre-trib. We’ll be out of here before long.
Gal: What if you’re wrong?
Guy: I stand by the word of God. Thats what is written, so that is what will pass.

Not wanting to pick on anyone here, but sadly this was a very clear case of how not to think about such things. It actually confuses two very different issues. Yes, the Word of God is perfect and without error. But our understanding and interpretation of it is not perfect and without error. Christians for 2000 years have interpreted the Word of God in various ways.

Some interpretations are way off the mark, while some are closer to the truth. But no one has an infallible and perfect understanding of the Word of God – no one. We are all finite, fallen and sinful – even as believers – so we are always likely to get some things wrong. Therefore humility is one of the first and most important virtues all believers need to have, certainly when it comes to studying Scripture.

We ALL see through a glass darkly, as the Apostle Paul put it. We all have partial and fallible understanding of everything, including what the Bible teaches. Yes, we can and should have a high degree of certainty and assurance about key biblical doctrines. We can strongly affirm crucial teachings such as the deity of Christ and his atoning work on the Cross.

But on secondary doctrines – such as one’s pet beliefs on various eschatological theories – we need to hold things a bit more lightly. There are legitimate and sound biblical reasons why Christians will hold to various different eschatological views.

Just because they happen to differ from you does not necessarily mean they are stupid, the spawn of Satan, or have a low view of Scripture. Their study and reflection have taken them in somewhat different directions than that of others. That too is fair enough.

Once again – based on my past experience – I must implore you: this article really is not meant to lead folks to come here and bash each other up as they push their favourite end-times theories and positions. That was not the main point of this article.

The main point was to say that there can indeed be some room to move on these various issues, and we need to extend some Christian grace to others who may have a different understanding than we do. That is mostly what I want to convey here. I do not want yet another gung-ho debate on the rapture, or the millennium, or what have you. There are plenty of other places where people can argue these matters to their heart’s content.

No, this does not mean I dislike debate, am afraid of letting other viewpoints through, or am censoring things. There is a time and place for proper debate. Here I am just raising a few questions and offering a few thoughts. So please take it in that spirit thanks. As such, feel free to express your thoughts on this, but please no angry arguing, seeking to convert me or others to your preferred views on these issues thanks.

And for those who want to see some of the many good books on all this, see this somewhat older bibliography featuring nearly 100 titles: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/11/10/recommended-reading-on-eschatology/

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18 Replies to “Tribulation, Suffering and the Believer”

  1. Dear Bill,

    At the beginning of a new year, already with grief and shock over the tsunami of hostility to truth and the things of God, please be encouraged that when you “very much feel I need to write on a particular topic” . . please do so!

    So many have expressed that they discern prophetic gifting in your writings. If you very much feel you need to write on a particular topic, then we very much want and need to hear what the Lord wants you to communicate to us all.

    You are much appreciated, faithful watchman on the wall.

    Thank you!

  2. Our past to His mercy, our present to His love, our future to His providence as we pray “His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, the Father’s two good creations”, hence we pray Come, Lord Jesus to restore to you all that is rightfully yours to the abolishment of evil.

  3. I’ve always had difficulty understanding how the coming of the Lord could occur in two separate phases – with a pre-tribulation rapture before the second coming – as they seem to be portrayed as a single event?

    In 1 Cor 15:51-52, Paul says “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

    So the dead will be raised and we’ll all be changed at the “last trumpet”. That seems to be the 7th trumpet of Rev 11:15, when the Messiah’s kingdom begins: “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

    Also, the “flash” in 1 Cor 15:51 seems to match what Jesus said in Luke 17:24: “For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.”

    Finally, 1 Thess 4:16-17 says “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

    The “loud command … the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God” sounds like a very loud, dramatic, public event, rather than something that happens in secret. And the “trumpet” seems to match the last/seventh trumpet in the first two passages above.

    So to me, it makes sense that these four passages refer to the same event.

  4. Hi Bill, thank you for a well balanced and well researched article. Your overview of some of the popular eschatological “wheelbarrows” currently being pushed was very refreshing. My contribution to your article focuses on one concrete fact that we can trust in; And that is, that God is in total control of His creation. It is implied and openly declared throughout the O.T. and declared by Jesus in the Gospels, culminating in Jesus’ declaration in Rev. 22:13. Now all of us can only scratch our heads and wonder why God allowed so many horrific periods in our history to play out, whilst delivering us from others! We can,as you’ve quite rightly stated ” only see through a window darkly” on this side of Glory. One area I would encourage you Bill, is in the Social Media arena. The oligarchies may shut you down, HOWEVER, our Mighty Holy Spirit has an infinite number of strategies to get His Message out (2Tim.2-9). In saying all of this, Bill, if The Holy Spirit lays a message on your heart, IT WILL GET OUT THERE! As always,”please keep dishing it out” Blessings, Kel.

  5. Reading Corrie Ten Boon’s “Prayers and Promises”, it seems God’s promises regarding the future are more to do with how to go through the fire rather than escape it. As with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and yes, she should know. How can we be rescued from a situation in which we are not in? God had to rescue the Israelites whilst they were in the tribulation of Egypt and not before.

    David Skinner UK

  6. “Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly: “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.” ”
    That’s interesting because I vaguely recall reading something similar. Apparently there was a Christian church in China in the days before Communism that preached Jesus will rescue/rapture them before any persecution occurs. Then came the Communist takeover and intense persecution towards the churches. The members of this church simply could not cope and did not fare well, with some apparently renouncing the faith and rejecting Christianity entirely, thinking they’ve been lied to. On this matter, the apostates are correct in a way; if you’ve been told that Jesus will rescue you before persecution occurs and then persecution starts and no such rescue happens, what else can you conclude other than the religion is completely bogus.
    So to me, pre-trib rapture teaching may indeed be dodgy.

  7. Thanks Bill.

    I believe the Bible supports a positive eschatology here on earth and that Jesus is Lord of all things, now, today and in history.

    I love the beautiful description of the word of God given to us in Hebrews, chapter 4 verses 12-16. I prefer it’s rendering in the KJV. The description of the seamless transition of the word of God, to Jesus Christ himself and then on to inviting us into the very throne of God “to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” just beggars belief with it’s kindness and grace, and it leaves me awestruck. I believe this is a genuine invitation, given for Christians to accept, now, today.

    I love God’s decree that, for the Christian, all things are ours and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. (1 Cor 3:21-23)

    I love Psalm 110, and how it echoes through the New Testament.
    “ The LORD said unto my Lord,
    Sit thou at my right hand,
    until I make thine enemies thy footstool….”

    And I love the last verse of Mark, immediately after Jesus gave the great commission, “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. “

    Jesus’ description of the Son of man from Mark 13:34 is interesting. I believe it is a reflection of where we are positioned today, now that Jesus has ascended into heaven: we have authority, instructions and work to do. We are instructed to be about discipling all the nations to Christ. The Master does not intend his servants and workers to allow his house to be plundered while he, Jesus, is away.

    We Christians have a lot of work ahead of us in this apostate world; occupying, working and seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

    Thank you for your article Bill, it’s timely and appropriate. We should examine ourselves and search the Scriptures daily.

    -Tony

    Lambs Reign is a useful resource
    It’s podcast/radio has an encouraging ‘tag’

    JESUS IS KING
    NO NEUTRALITY?
    NO EXILE
    NO SURRENDER

    https://www.lambsreign.com

  8. Bill,

    Funny, but I was thinking the same thing this morning. Actually for a while now. This morning the Lord reminded me of a song by a Latino group named Salvador. The song is “With God”. You can check it out on you tube, but it is perfect.

  9. Amen!

    See John 16:33, Mat 13:21.

    The greatest tribulation was, of course, what Jesus suffered and remember He knew from the beginning of creation exactly when and how He was to suffer. That is a very long time to carry that burden.

    My experience dealing with a lot of funny ideas is that many misunderstandings seem to arrive when people read the Thessalonian epistles without understanding that Paul had already spent much time directly teaching the Thessalonians in depth so, if people read these letters without that context, it is very easy to get the wrong impression of what Paul was saying. I would suggest, if the only place you get your pet ideas from is from the Thessalonian epistles and you can’t see the same things written in other scriptures, including Paul ‘s other epistles, your understanding of what Paul was saying in these epistles is almost certainly not correct. Fortunately, by reading all Paul’s epistles, we can get a very good idea of what he would have previously taught the Thessalonians.

    E.g what is very relevant today is Paul’s teaching on the end times apostasy or falling away. If you want to know what Paul was saying about the defiling of the temple in 2Thes 2 you need to first understand what Paul taught about the temple which we fortunately can tell from other epistles such as in 1 Cor 6:19-20,1 Cor 3:16-17, 2 Cor 6:16. Without that context and previous teaching, which Paul would definitely have given the Thessalonians just like he did the Corinthians, most people think Paul was speaking of the man made temple in Jerusalem whereas nowhere does Paul elsewhere consider the Jewish temple relevant and in fact tells us that form of worship is obsolete and ready to fall away (Heb 8:13) and, of course, Paul would have been well aware of what Jesus said about the destruction of the Jewish temple.

    What Paul would have taught the Thessalonians would have been how, despite the fact that we are all temples of The Holy Spirit and have all defiled that temple, those of us who recognise God’s authority and repent of our sins can be confident of salvation whereas those who don’t repent are in fact, standing in the temple and declaring that they are God. They are not recognising God’s sovereignty. This is the reality of how some sinners can be saved and others, despite appearing to be worshipping God and considering themselves to be covered by Jesus’ blood can, in fact, be shown to be apostate or having fallen away. (Heb 10:26)

  10. I like you live and let live type approach Bill and that you said some rather than lump us all into one group of scaredy cats who are scared of the AC and want to escape. Too often that is the argument I hear and it is a turn off. Some are like that yes but many are not. If a person does understand why I believe in a pre-trib rapture and starts out by insulting my what makes him think I will listen to his evidence of post-trib or mid-trib??? I don’t care if people want to be post or mid but don’t dismiss me because you think I’m scared.

    It seems odd how sometimes we can be nicer to people we are trying to convert than to fellow believers. After all you wouldn’t start a conversation trying to convert someone with ‘you believe in stupid fairy tales and droppings out of a donkey’s butt. Now let me tell you about Christ’.

    If I am wrong ok I go into the tribulation and end up martyred but if I and right you get a pleasant surprise. How many though who are against pre-trib would gloat if the pre-trib rapture doesn’t happen??! And why because a fellow believer will get tortured and killed and endure great suffering?? That is a reason to gloat and be glad you were right????? Such a spirit would NOT be of Christ.

    Finally the is a difference between TRIBULATION and THE TRIBULATION. The former happens all the time in many parts of the world while the latter is specific time denoting the reign of the Anti-Christ. We must all regardless of our position on the rapture’s timing be prepared for TRIBULATION it is THE TRIBULATION that the rapture’s timing affects weather we prepare to go through or not.

  11. Bill

    Thank you for an article that goes to the core issue of peoples positions regarding Eschatology.
    For over 30 years I held to the Pre-Trib position and even taught it with gusto. During the process of study, I just kept coming up against contrary interpretations of passages that left many questions unanswered. Far to many believers are content to hear one view and die on their sword for that view.
    After studying scripture regarding the topic of suffering and observing the suffering of my brothers and sister in many lands, I came to a conclusion that the scripture had been Westernized and that Americans where being fed kool-aid.
    To observe the suffering of Israel in the Old Testament convinced me that the Church of today is not immune to the chastising by a holy God. Yes, we will not experience His wrath, but we will experience His chastening and discipline.
    Grateful for your many posts and willingness to stand up and be counted!

  12. Well Fred this – Yes, we will not experience His wrath, but we will experience His chastening and discipline – unfortunately brings up the issue is the whole of THE TRIBULATION the wrath of God or only part/half??? That too is, as the Brits say, a sticky wicket.

  13. “Will your faith take a beating if it turns out your views on this were incorrect?”

    While I am not going to argue with you, I am going to answer this question because it is something that is constantly thrown at me because of what I believe and I find it very disparaging, you have made this statement more than once before. It is bothering me so much that I could not let this go without an answer, I do believe I have the right of reply and, like you, I do not need teaching on this as I have studied it well for many, many years.

    A born-again Christian cannot lose their salvation and God promises to sustain us. I think it is insulting to God and to me to say our faith could suffer if we have to suffer and in my view is just a ploy to try and show those of us that do believe in a Pre-Trib rapture that we are wrong and are really going to be shocked and suffer to the point of possibly losing our faith.

    I actually, sincerely doubt that any true, born-again Christian in the west will be prepared for what is coming if it does go according to your view, no matter what their beliefs are, scripture tells us that we cannot sustain or strengthen ourselves so no particular belief will help, only the sustaining love of God will carry us. Thus, I firmly believe that all will receive God given strength to endure (He will sustain us) and those who turn away and give up/compromise were not Christ’s to begin with, persecution is a great sifter of the Church.

    Do I take the view of a Pre-Trib rapture as just a way to ‘escape’? Most decidedly NO and neither do many others who believe as I do, however, we actually believe that is what the scripture says, that Christ will remove us because God’s wrath (which is judgement and punishment for the sin of rejecting Christ) is for an unbelieving world and for an unbelieving Israel – The Time of Jacob’s Trouble, not for His Church/Bride, who has been forgiven of her sins, has repented already, believes and trusts in Christ as her Saviour and King and is not appointed to wrath.

    There will be many who are saved, after we have been raptured, during this Time of Jacob’s Trouble (those who survive will populate and inhabit the Millennial Kingdom as born-again humans) and many who are martyred for Christ (they will be resurrected at Christ’s second coming).

    I am not telling you that you are wrong, I am saying that my faith and the faith of all born again believers will be sustained by God if it happens to be that we must go through the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. Jesus will hold on to each and every one of us, He will not lose any that His Father has given to Him.

  14. In John 16:33, preceded by a long discourse I’m not going to reproduce here, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV)
    I don’t think He’s necessarily referring to what He calls, in Matthew 24:21, the “great tribulation” of the end, but of course He may have been. But He was giving fair warning that we should expect significant difficulties in our Christian life and witness. And encouraging us that He’d already made good provision for us to withstand it.
    Most of us in the Christianised West have had it pretty easy for much – most? – of our lives. But why should we expect to avoid what Jesus said we’d have? What Christians through earlier ages, and in other parts of the world now, have experienced and are undergoing now.
    He also said we’d be hated by the world because He was/is hated (John 15:18). I think something is wrong in our Christian walk and witness if we’re not experiencing at least a little of that. And it’s time to get ready to face it.

  15. Lesley Elizabeth Peach there are MANY christians who are either Laodicean or Sardisian they has a nominal faith the go through the motions they say the words but the hearts are empty. since the faith is so nominal so shallow it won’t take much to shake it to cause it to collapse. think of the parable of the sower when the seed is planted in in rocky soil.

    I am a pretrib person and can say I would stand for christ even if I was wrong and there isn’t a pretrib rapture. but I can’t say all who believe in pretrib would hold fast some who are of the above type might not. while true no-one can pluck true believers from Christ’s hand sometimes a fake believer and a true believer look a lot alike. I won’t get into hebrews 6 and whether one can choose to walk away from God or not. while 2 and 1/3 CALL themselves christian I think the true number is a bit less than HALF. some so called churches don’t have one saved person. I think it would SHOCK people if for one Sunday they could look at in the congregation and be able to tell who is going to heaven and how isn’t.

  16. Paul Wilson, “there are MANY christians who are either Laodicean or Sardisian they has a nominal faith the go through the motions they say the words but the hearts are empty. since the faith is so nominal so shallow it won’t take much to shake it to cause it to collapse. think of the parable of the sower when the seed is planted in in rocky soil.”

    Why are you even referring to these false converts? It is irrelevant what they believe as they are not born again and will face the tribulation whether the rapture occurs or not, if they are alive at the time of course. To talk of unbelievers’ beliefs and what may happen to them is just muddying the waters unnecessarily. They certainly will not enter Heaven or the Millennial Kingdom (unless they are actually saved during the tribulation, which is possible of course). I was answering Bill’s question as a true, born again believer. A false convert does not have the Holy Spirit and therefore will receive neither sustenance nor strength from God and so will quickly fall away, as I said above “those who turn away and give up/compromise were not Christ’s to begin with, persecution is a great sifter of the Church.”

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