Facts about Israel’s Tribulation

Dr. Mike Johnston

If you’ve studied the Bible for any length of time, you probably know that the tribulation – aka “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) – is a grossly misunderstood, gravely misapplied end-time’s doctrine. One of the major misrepresentations of the tribulation comes from ardent PreTrib rapture opponents who inauspiciously link it to the Body of Christ with nothing more than a wink, hope and heavy-handed haranguing. Their confusion originates in a hermeneutic gaffe I once employed by ignoring the clear distinction God’s Word makes between Israel, the Body of Christ, and the two distinct programs governing them.

 

The first program is for Israel and exists from prophecy “which God hath spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21). The second is for the Body of Christ and exists from the mystery “which was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25). The division is a necessary component for unlocking end time’s Scripture separating the Body of Christ from Israel, and her coming tribulation. However, ignoring it leads to several blunders.

First, trivializing the doctrine of the tribulation. Anti-PreTrib proponents claim it’s nothing more than the common trials every Christian faces. The tribulation that Moses, Jesus, and John warned Israel about (Deut. 4:30; Matt. 24:21, 29; Rev. 7:14) is an epic future event which was progressively revealed in Scripture as “tribulation” (Deut. 4:30; Matt. 24:21, 29; Rev. 7:14); “the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble” (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; Zeph. 1:15); Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:24-27); “a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zephaniah 1:15), and “the hour of temptation” to try earth dwellers (Rev. 3:10). You see anything trivial here?

Second, twisting the purpose for Israel’s tribulation; which is to punish sin and sinners (Deut. 4:30-31; Jer. 30-31; Joel, Zeph; Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; Rev. 6-19), and prepare earth and Israel for the Revelation of the Messiah (Matt. 24:29; Rev. 19:11) and the Jewish Davidic Kingdom following (2 Sam. 7:16; Isa. 11; 65; Matt. 25:34; Rev. 20).

However, the greatest “sleight of … cunning craftiness” (Eph. 4:14) used by anti-PreTrib advocates has to be their “Houdini hermeneutics” whereby they make discordant facts appear or disappear as need arises. One glaring example concerns the slipshod treatment of the mystery Body of Christ the prophets never saw and never mentioned (Rom. 16:25; (Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:26).

Consider this. Israel and the anti-Semitic Gentile nations can be clearly identified during “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; Zeph. 1:15) while the heavenly Body of Christ – which has been promised deliverance from it (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:5-7; Rev. 3:10; see also Rev. 4:1) – is conspicuously absent (Rev. 6-19). Was this an oversight from the Holy Spirit? Was He unaware the church is included in this epoch of evil? Or – even worse – did He purposely hide this in order to advance some secret conspiracy to deceive us? Hardly!

The fact is, by design there isn’t a single prophecy or verse anywhere in the Bible conclusively consigning or identifying on earth for a single moment of Israel’s tribulation the Body of Christ without pulling from context and redefining the words “saints” and “elect” – which in Daniel, the Olivet Discourse, and Revelation specifically refer to Israel.

It is Israel’s tribulation

It is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), and Jacob is Israel (Gen. 32:28).

The origin of Israel’s tribulation

The tribulation was first prophesied for Israel by Moses (Deut. 4:30). We find seven elements linking the tribulation to Israel: When thou [Israel] art in tribulation, [first mention] and all these things [tribulation horrors] are come upon thee, even in the latter days [the time before the kingdom], if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant [Abrahamic, and the other four] of thy fathers which he sware unto them (Deut. 4:30-31). Seven factors emerge from Moses’ prophecy to Israel: 

  1. The tribulation is for Israel“When thou art in tribulation”
  2. It will consist of severe trials “all these things are come upon thee” [1]
  3. It will happen in the latter days “even in the latter days”
  4. Its purpose is national repentance of Israel“if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice”
  5. It will showcase God’s mercy toward Israel“the LORD thy God is a merciful God”
  6. It will demonstrate God’s eternal purpose for Israel“He will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee”
  7. It will result in fulfillment of a Covenant[2] “nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them”

The purpose of Israel’s tribulation

The tribulation is punitive and preparatory for Israel prior to the inauguration of the Davidic Covenant Kingdom in Jerusalem (Deut. 4:30; Isa. 24; Jer. 30-31; Rev. 6-19; see Isa. 66:16).

Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: (Jeremiah 30:7-8)

Names used for Israel’s tribulation

The tribulation (the name used by the Lord Jesus- Matt. 24:29), is also called “great tribulation”, “day of the Lord”, “time of (Jacob’s) trouble”, “at that time”, “in that day”, Daniel’s Seventieth week; “the hour of temptation”, and so forth – always referring to Israel primarily.

In addition, Zephaniah used several other terms when describing Israel’s future tribulation:  “The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land. (Zephaniah 1:14-18).

Coinciding with Zephaniah’s prophecy, the Book of Revelation delineates the tribulation as a time of “wrath” by using the word at least 10 times in Revelation. It is called “the wrath of God five times (Revelation 14:10, 19; 15:1,7; 16:1) and “the wrath of the Lamb” once (Rev. 6:16 see v 17). Opening the first seal unleashes the tribulation [1] which continues 7 years (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6, 14) and concludes with “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15) when Christ returns to fight the armies gathered against Israel at Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21).

The affect of Israel’s tribulation on earth

The apocalypse is God’s judgment upon the inhabitants of earth who have little if any love for Israel and no love for God (Rev. 3:10; 6-19). the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (Rev. 3:10). But who are these earth dwellers?

Thayer’s definition adds some depth to the word “dwell”: metaphorically divine powers, influences, etc., are said to dwell in his soul, to pervade, prompt, govern it. This seems to indicate these are men and women completely consumed with the ways of the world, things of the world, and people of the world and in that state have had no desire for a relationship with God, the Lord Jesus, His elect Israel for that matter. I think this is very evident by their grief over the destruction of Babylon in Chapter eighteen.

The tribulation is a time of God’s wrath, beginning in Revelation 6 (the wrath of the Lamb) through chapter 19. The Body of Christ has NOT been appointed to wrath (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). [3]

And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10; see 5:9)

The Lord Jesus promised to keep us from this period

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Revelation 3:10) Dispensational scholars teach the churches outlined in Revelation 2-3 represent the history of the church from the first century onward. Using that formula, we are in the Philadelphia/Laodicean era awaiting the shout from Christ to “Come up hither” (Rev. 4:1).

Jesus delivered the Olivet Discourse to 4 of His closest disciples in response to questions concerning His return to set up the Kingdom of Israel. It has nothing to do with the Body of Christ which didn’t exist at that time

The discourse originates from a private briefing from the Messiah whose Kingdom offer to Israel had recently been rejected (Matt. 21-23). Four of His closest disciples – Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 13:3) – knowing the certainty of the Davidic Covenant privately approached Him with questions concerning when He would return to initiate it (Matt. 24:3). What followed was the clearest delineation of “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) found anywhere in Scripture. In that discussion the Lord Jesus not only described Daniel’s seventieth week, but assured these four patriots He would return to Jerusalem to set up the Kingdom “immediately after” (Matt. 24:29). [4]

In summary, God designed the tribulation to punish the world for sin and prepare Israel for the coming Kingdom. As such, there isn’t a verse anywhere in the Bible clearly placing the Body of Christ in this time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble without pulling the words “saints” and “elect” from their context in Daniel, the Olivet Discourse, and Revelation where they refer specifically to Israel.

 

[1] One of the reasons God sent nations against Israel is to prove her through conflict (Josh. 2:22; 3:1,4).

[2] Bear in mind Antichrist in some way will broker a covenant of peace between Israel and her barbarous neighbors that he will break mid-way (Dan. 9:27).

[3] Once again, you will not find the Body of Christ in a single verse or scene on earth from Revelation 3:22 through Revelation 19:14.

[4] It’s no secret that Anti-PreTrib rapturists often cite Matthew 24:29 as one of their “gotcha” texts for a post-trib rapture. However, one problem generally ignored by them – and there are many others discussed or inferred in this treatise – is how the church can be on earth at the same time she returns with the Lord? “The Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints . . .” (Jude 1:14, see also Matthew 24:27-31; 1 Thess. 3:13; Revelation 19:11-21). “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming” (1 Thessalonians 2:19)? Clearly, the coming of the Messiah spoken of in Matthew 24 is the revelation of Christ with His church, not the rapture for His church! The time of Jacob’s trouble is for Israel, NOT for the Body of Christ. There isn’t a verse anywhere in Scripture that clearly assigns the church to this dreadful time on earth and Anti-PreTrib rapturists do no justice to truth to suggest there is.

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