Will Believers Experience The Time of God’s Wrath Or Be Exempt From It?
What is the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming? How does the Rapture impact our life now? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he continues in our 1 Thessalonians series, Hope Beyond Hardship.
The OT is quite clear that God’s holiness will prompt Him one day to unleash His just wrath on all of the sinners of the earth. Isaiah chapters 24 through 27, which are called The Little Apocalypse (or a miniature version of the book of Revelation), ominously speaks of God’s coming judgment of the godless. The motivation for His judgment is detailed in His divine courtroom in verses summed up in chapter 24, verse 5:
5 The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant (Isa. 24).
Thousands of years of mankind willfully breaking God’s internal moral and divinely revealed spiritual laws causes the earth to be utterly morally and spiritually polluted. Eventually, God says, “Enough! Enough of man playing as if he is God. Enough of man’s pride thinking he can live as he wants. Enough of man calling darkness light and light darkness (Isa. 5). Enough of man disregarding God’s laws and creating his own.”
When that time of judgment arrives, Isaiah describes it as a worldwide event wherein God literally shakes the earth in His divine anger against sin and sinners.
19 The earth is broken asunder, the earth is split through, the earth is shaken violently. 20 The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard, and it totters like a shack, For its transgression is heavy upon it, and it will fall, never to rise again (Isa. 24).
We know from John’s fuller description of this in Revelation chapter 6 that even in the face of cosmic divine judgment, the lost, who love darkness more than light, will actually flee to caves in a quest to find safety from the wrath of the Lamb, Jesus Christ (Rev. 6). John records what they will say as they hunker down in the darkness of the caves:
15 And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?" (Rev. 6).
Jeremiah, the prophet, correctly concluded:
9 The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17)
Indeed, man’s heart is so wicked that even when he personally faces what he know is the wrath and judgment of the Trinity against his sin, he still tenaciously holds on to his sin and defies God. Shocking, isn’t it?
Our world today is merely working overtime to pollute the earth with their sin, and with each passing week the pollution spreads far and wide, while righteousness, holiness, and morality are cast aside as unwanted relics of the past. Sinners are enjoying their moment in their warped vesion of the sun; however, the great reversal is coming where the first (the non-Christians) will be last and the last (the Christians) will be first. This reversal will start suddenly, as Isaiah and John both reveal in their apocalyptic writings, with the slow but steady outpouring of God’s holy wrath against the wicked.
The question all of this prophetic evidence leads Christians to pose is quite logical: Will Christians experience God’s final wrath or will they be exempt from it? Paul addresses this pivotal question in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. In his quest to help Christians mature in the faith in 1 Thessalonians chapters 4 through 5, he answers this question in a majority of these verses so they not only understood God’s kingdom program, but so they knew how to live in light of what was prophesied to occur. Obviously, what Paul articulated here is applicable to us for these eschatological truths are timeless.
Further, the answer Paul gives here, which is also articulated elsewhere by Paul and other biblical authors, is so complex and important, it behooves us to pause in this study and lay the groundwork for digging deep into 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 in our next study. So for our purposes, I propose we pause and answer the question at hand:
Will Believers Experience The Time of God’s Wrath Or Be Exempt From It?
From my lifelong study of the Scriptures, I’m convinced the answer is this, “No, the Church, which is composed of all believers, will not endure the prophesied cosmic judgment of God Almighty.” Why do I believe this? Permit me to give you several lines of evidence.
Some Reasons For The Exemption
First, let me share a chart with you. By viewing this, I hope you will have a better understanding about the timing of the rapture of the Church we will be discussing.
With this chart in mind, let’s consider some of the evidence which validates the premise that the Church will be in heaven, not on earth during the Tribulation of seven years.
The Doctrine of Imminency Speaks of the Church’s Deliverance. Concerning this, Dr. Renald Showers states, “an imminent event is one that is always hanging overhead, is constantly rady to befall or overtake a person, is always close at hand in the sense that it could happened at any moment.” The Rapture of the Church, which Paul articulates in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, is distinct from the Second Coming of Christ (Matt. 24) insofar as the latter event is not imminent. Once Daniel’s prophecied seven-year tribulataion starts (Dan. 9:24-27), a person could logically calculate all of the 21 divine judgments John reveals in Revelation chapter 6 through 19 will occur chronologically in this time period (as argued by Gary Cohen in his book Understanding Revelation) and formulate of good idea when Christ would appear on His white horse with the armies of heaven for the final battle at Armageddon (Rev. 19).
The Rapture of the Church is distinctly different. As a sidenote, the English word rapture is from the Latin, rapio, which means “to seize or snatch in relation to an ecstasy of spirit or the actual removal from one plce to another. In other words, it meas to be carried away either in spirit or body. Thus the rapture of the church means the removal of the church from earth to heaven.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul speaks of believers being “caught up.” The Greek word here is harpazo, and it means to snatch or take away, or an outright removal (Acts 8:39). The Latin translation of this verse actually uses the word rapturo, which is an excellent representation of the Greek. Hence, the concept of the rapture of the Church is based on a biblical word.
Throughout the NT, this snacthing away of the Church is always pictured as imminent, meaning absolutely nothing prophetically needs to occur in order for this grand event to occur. Conside some significant texts:
22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha (1 Cor. 16).
It is quite odd to see an Aramaic term used in a letter written to Greek speaking people. Maranatha is composed of three Aramaic words: “mar” (Lord), “ana” (our), and “tha” (come). Hence, the word means: Our Lord comes. Why didn’t the early Greek church translate this term? Because they all knew what it meant. It pointed to the fact that the Lord was coming at any moment, therefore, they all needed to be prepared for His glorious arrival. And that coming was, you guessed it, imminent and quite uncertain regarding it’s timing.
Here’s another verse:
5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. (Phil. 4).
Basically, Paul calls believers to mind their behavior (constantly) for the imminent appearance of Christ for His Church was, and is, a moment by moment reality.
Let’s add one more biblical statement to the mix:
9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 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 Thess. 1).
The saints in Thessalonica are pictured here as faithfully awaiting the imminent appearance of Jesus from heaven. As promised, He will deliver them from His coming divine wrath against sin and sinners when He appears. If they were going to pass through the seven-year Tribulation, Paul should have counseled them to buckle up and prepare for the worst. But he did. Why? He knew the Church would not be present for this time of divine worldwide wrath.
The doctrine of imminency, therefore, leads us to believe the Church will not be on the planet when God unleashes His stored-up wrath (Rom. 2:1-5). Since the Second Coming is preceded by many clearly delineated signs anyone can study and identify (Matt. 24), we conclude the Rapture and the Second Coming are not one event but two events separated by seven years.
God Has A Program For Israel And For The Church. The Covenant God made with Israel in the OT reveals His plan:
- The Abrahamic Covenant reveals how God chose Israel to be His special people to bless the world, especially with the coming of the Messiah. He also promised them a land to rule over and enjoy forever (Gen. 12; 15).
- The Mosiac Covenant reveals how God showed Israel what holy living called for exactly. By definition, it demonstrated how they could never fulfill the Law and would need a divine deliverer, i.e., the Messiah/Prophet (Deut. 18), who could fulfill the Law (Gal. 3:24; Heb. 7:28; Matt. 5:18).
- The Palestinian Covenant reveals the land parameters God unconditionally promised to His chosen people, Israel (Deut. 30).
- The Davidic Covenant reveals how God promised Israel a divine King of Kings who would reign on David’s throne in the kingdom age (2 Sam. 7; Psalm 2:1ff; 89:34-36; Isa. 2:1ff; 7:14; 9:6ff; Mic. 5:1-2).
- The New Covenant reveals how God unconditionally promised Israel He would redeem them in the future (Jer. 30-31).
These unconditional covenants were made by God with a literal seed, Israel, not with the Church, which was a mystery until its formation at Pentecost (Acts 2). All combined, these covenants promised a “forever nation,” a “forever land” with definite parameters, a “forever king,” a “forever Davidic throne,” a new covenant with abiding, uninterrupted blessings for Israel.
Israel is temporarily set aside because of their rejection of the Messiah. The gospel now goes out to both Jew and Gentile who join the Church when they turn to Christ in faith (Acts 4:10ff; Rom. 10:9). Howevre, as Paul argues in Romans 9-11, God is not finished with His plan for Israel. In fact, He states just the opposite in Romans 11:
25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob (Rom. 11).
When the last person is saved during the times of the Gentiles, which is the period we live in now, God will immediately turn and finish His prophesied plan of saving His ancient people, Israel.
What has all of this got to do with whether saints will experience the Tribulation or not? The tribulation is a time Jacob’s trouble, not that of the Church (Jer. 30:7). There is a distinction between Israel and the Church (Eph. 3:1-7; Rom. 16:25-27; Col. 1), and God has a program and promises He must fulfill regarding Israel. That fulfillment comes to Israel only from their living in and through the Tribulation. Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks, or 490 years, in 9:24-27, concerns Israel, not the Church. Since Daniel’s first 483 years were literally fulfilled toward God’s literal people, Israel, why in the world would the last seven years of judgment not concern them? The point is, they will. The Tribulation is all about God’s plan to judge and purify His ancient people, Israel, so they will be prepared to enjoy the kingdom blessings He will bring to the earth after His Second Coming.
Therefore, the Tribulation’s purpose warrants that the Church is not present, but absent by being in heaven while the Lord finishes His work with His people, Israel.
The Fact The Church Is Missing In The Apocalypse Judgments Is Most Instructive. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, appears in Revelation chapters 2 through 3, which precede the judgment section of Revelation chapters 6 through 19. The Church only appears again at the chronological close of Revelation chapter 22, verse 15, which occurs after the Battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus with the armies of heaven. If the Church is present in the Tribulation, why is it distinctly missing from these judgment chapters? Further, the fact that the Lord seals 144,000 Jews at the beginning of the tribulation and makes them invincible witnesses as the Antichrist rises to worldwide power (Rev.), suggests He is working in and through the nation, not the Church, to reach the lost before His glorious Second Coming.
There Are Huge Differences Between The Rapture And the Second Coming. Dr. Norman Geisler provides a chart to enable us to appreciate these vast differences between the two events:
|Meeting them in the air (1 Thess. 4:17)||Taking them to the earth (Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:11)|
|Taking believers to heaven (John 14:3)||Bringing believers back to earth (Rev. 19:14)|
|Coming for His saints (2 Thess. 2:1)||Coming with His saints (Jude 14)|
|Only believers see Him (1 Thess. 4:17)||All people see Him (Rev. 1:7)|
|No signs precede it (1 Thess. 5:1-3)||Many signs precede it (Matt. 24:3-30)|
|The Tribulation begins (2 Thess. 1:6-9)||The Millennium begins (Rev. 20:1-7)|
What could be clearer? Two events, separated by seven years, are in view, not one.
Christ’s Marriage Analogy Validates The Rapture Of the Church. Here is what Jesus promised:
1 Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14).
Christ promises here to come back (after His resurrection and ascension, Acts 1:6ff), and specifically take His followers to their new heavenly home. This is vastly different from when He comes back with the Church in Revelation 19, judges the world’s armies, and establishes His long-awaited and prophesied Davidic empire (Rev. 20:4-6). To appreciate what Jesus is really saying here you must understand the Jewish marriage custom as it is applied to God’s people.
- Step one: the betrothal, or the establishment of the marriage covenant. The groom traveled from his father’s house to the home of the prospective bride for the purpose of negotiating the price for the bride.
- Step two: once the price was negotiated, the marriage covenant was established and the couple were considered married. The couple drank from a cup of wine to denote the creation of the marriage covenant.
- Step three: the groom left his bride at her home and headed to his father’s house to prepare a home for her. This time of separation typically took 12 months.
- Step four: at the end of the separation period, the groom came for his bride, typically at night. His best man and other male attendants participated in a torch-lit procession to her home. Although the bride had an idea of when her groom might appears, she didn’t know the exact time. Hence, his coming was always imminent, and it was preceded by a shout to announce the grand event.
- Step five: the bride and groom, along with all the female and male attendants, headed back to the father’s home where the wedding guests (Old Testament saints) were waiting their arrival.
- Step six: after their arrival, the bride and groom went into the secret bridal chamber or the huppah. Prior to her entrance into this sacred place, the bride remained veiled. In the privacy of this place, the bride and groom consummated their union. The groom eventually announced to the guests that the marriage was consummated and then he went back into the huppah for seven days. The guests continued to enjoy the wedding festitivites.
- Step seven: at the end of seven days, the groom brought out his unveiled bride for all the guests to see.
With this ancient tradition in mind, we can easily see how the Lord spoke about the church’s rapture before the Tribulation.
- Two thousand years ago, Jesus traveled from His father’s house to pay the price for the bride, the Church (Eph. 5:22-23), and to establish a new marriage covenant (1 Cor. 11:25). He, of course, was the payment price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Now when we drink from the communion cup, we remember the payment price for our new standing. These two events correspond to steps one and two listed above.
- Christ’s ascension to His father’s house after His resurrection (Acts 1:6ff), fulfills step three where the groom leaves to prepare of home for His future bride. Jesus is now in heaven preparing magnificent homes for each of us.
- Christ coming for His expectant bride with an entourage of angels/attendants at the Rapture coincides with the shout Paul speaks about in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff.
- Step five will be fulfilled when Jesus takes His bride, the Church, back to heaven where she will be purified and prepared for the wedding (1 Cor. 3:6ff).
- Step six will be fulfilled insofar as the Church will be hidden for seven years, not seven days, as the Lord judges the godless and deals with Israel.
- Step seven will be fulfilled when Jesus brings the Church with Him in Revelation 19. As His glory will pierce the darkness upon His arrival, the world will finally see the Church, the Bride, unveiled in all of her glory and ready to enjoy the Marriage Supper to end all marriage suppers (Rev. 19:7-9).
Christ’s teaching in John 14 should leave no doubt about the Rapture of His bride before the unleashing of His wrath during the seven-year Tribulation. Today, His bride awaits His imminent arrival. When He comes for His bride, will you be with Him? Those who are the bride are those whose garments are washed, by faith, in the sacrificial blood of the Lamb (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pet. 1:19).
Some Reactions To The Rapture
Three come to mind:
Live a godly life. Since the groom, Jesus, can come for us at any moment, this truth reminds us how how important it is for us to make sure our lives grow in holiness each and every day. Putting off the old sinful self and putting on the new godly self should be our constant focus. As Paul told the Ephesians:
21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another (Eph. 4).
None of us knows when the Lord will appear for us, but we wait expectantly for Him. I pray you are walking with Him as you wait, meaning you are maturing spiritually. This is all so important for we shall all, as His bride, appear before His judgment seat to give account for how well we acted like His people (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:10ff).
Share the gospel with anyone and everyone. This was His last command before His ascension:
8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1).
Let the words of Christ’s brother, James, motivate you to witness about the glory of Christ’s life-saving, life-transformative gospel:
7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord, is at hand. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door (Jas. 5).
Since the Lord was at the door 2,000 years ago, how close are we to Him opening the door to snatch His Church, His Bride away before world-wide judgment? We are living on borrowed time, therefore, the time to call sinners to become saints by means of Christ’s gospel is NOW.
Trust Jesus as your Savior today. Believe on Him as your Redeemer and you will be cleansed from your sin and ushered into His eternal family (John 3:16).
 Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come!: A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church (Bellmawr, New Jersey: The Friends of Israel Gospel Minsitry, 1995), 127.
Charles Ryrie, What You Should Know About The Rapture (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 27).
 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Church, Last Things, Vol. 4 (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2005), 623.