Will Christians Go Through the Tribulation?

Will Christians Go Through the Tribulation? by Dr. J. Rodman Williams for CBN News

One of the most critical areas today in prophecy has to do with the understanding of tribulation. The New Testament speaks of “tribulation,” also “great tribulation,” and the debate hinges on whether the church (true believers) will or will not go through it. Robert P. Lightner speaks of “at least four different views of the church’s relation to the tribulation: the church to be raptured before the tribulation begins, the church to go through the tribulation, the church to go through the first half of the tribulation, and the prewrath rapture of the church” (only the first three have any major followings). How is it possible to decide among such varying viewpoints? Surely the issue is an important one, and interpretations vary a great deal on this. Let me make some suggestions to help.

The Rapture

First, some comments about the rapture of the church. The place in Scripture that most clearly teaches a rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. The final words are:

“The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

“Caught up” in one early Latin translation is rapiemur, from which we derive the English word “rapture.” So the rapture refers in this context to that moment when believers will be caught up, along with the dead in Christ, to a glorious meeting with the Lord in His triumphal descent. Paul also in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 speaks of the same event, saying:

“We shall not all sleep [i.e., die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

However, the teaching here relates not so much to meeting the Lord as to the fact that our bodies (dead and alive) will be changed in this great future event.

Rapture and Tribulation

Second, nothing is said in either passage directly about the relation of the rapture to tribulation. However, the implication in 1 Thessalonians 4 is that no tribulation follows the rapture. For rather than saying something like, “So shall we be delivered from tribulation,” the text thereafter reads,

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