The Good News of Mark

Chapter 13

Blaine Robison, M.A.


Additional Note: Targets of the Tribulation

Published 4 October 2012

"For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days." (Mark 13:19-20)

Down through history church theologians did not view the rapture of the saints and the revelation of Yeshua as being separate nor did they expect these blessed events to precede the coming of the Antichrist. In the early centuries following the apostolic era Christians were repeatedly warned by the church fathers that the Antichrist would come first to rule the world and initiate the great tribulation, which was interpreted as the Antichrist’s war against the saints, not God’s wrath on the world (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 16:3-5; The Epistle of Barnabas, 4; 15; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, 28:4; 29:1; Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 60f).

Both Irenaeus and Hippolytus warned that the beast would “put the Church to flight.” Christians were exhorted to be faithful in the face of temptation and trials lest they lose their inheritance in the Kingdom of the Lord. The writers of this period offered no panacea of being secretly rescued from tribulation, but encouraged the saints to persevere. Once Yeshua returned the wicked Antichrist will be destroyed and Yeshua will establish His reign of peace and righteousness. In modern times the term “posttribulationism” has been applied to the historic view, largely because of the advent of other interpretations that arose to assure Christians they would escape the suffering of the great tribulation, viewed as God’s wrath.

Beginning in the late 1820s various ministers began to speak of a divided Second Coming separated by a great tribulation, now known as pretribulationism. While there is some dispute as to who was the first person to teach the new interpretation, John Darby (1800-1881), an English minister who began the Plymouth Brethren movement, incorporated the belief into his dispensational theology. Through Darby’s preaching and popular writing pretribulationism and dispensational theology took firm root and today the beliefs are widely held in Evangelical churches. Popular writers of this viewpoint include John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, Harold Lindsay, Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye.

In 1941 the midtribulationist interpretation was introduced by Norman B. Harrison in his book The End: Rethinking the Revelation. Harrison offered a mediating position, distinguishing between the afflictions of the Antichrist occurring in the first half of the seven-year tribulation period and the wrath of God occurring in the second half of the tribulation period. Thus, he taught that the Church will be present for the first half of the Antichrist reign and then be raptured at the mid-point to be spared the outpouring of God’s wrath described in the trumpets and bowls of Revelation. Harrison viewed the resurrection of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 as corresponding to the general resurrection.

In 1990 a modification to the midtribulationist interpretation called “pre-wrath rapture” was proposed by Marvin Rosenthal. In his book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Thomas Nelson, 1990) Rosenthal declared that the fifth seal of Revelation represents the raptured church and the sixth seal begins the wrath of God (185). The pre-wrath approach describes the first half of the “tribulation period” or Daniel’s seventieth week as the “beginning of sorrows” and corresponding to the first four seals of Revelation. The second half of the “tribulation period” commences with the abomination of desolation and includes the “Great Tribulation” and the “Day of the Lord.” The Rapture occurs after the great tribulation but before the day of God’s wrath, thus the term “pre-wrath.”

Messianic Jewish scholars, as Christian scholars, are divided on the issue of the Rapture, Great Tribulation and Second Coming. Barney Kasdan, a Messianic Jewish Rabbi in San Diego, applies the Dispensational interpretation in his commentary on Matthew and claims that the Olivet Discourse does not envision the Church enduring the great tribulation (298). David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, also holds to a pre-tribulation rapture and in his book Future Hope: A Jewish Christian Look at the End of the World (Purple Pomegranate Productions, 1999) associates the great tribulation with Jacob's trouble (Jer 30:7) with Israel as the center of attention.

Marvin Rosenthal, leader of the Zion's Hope ministry, departed from Dispensationalism to formulate his pre-wrath thesis mentioned above. David Stern, a Messianic Jewish scholar in Israel, espouses the posttribulation view in his commentary (623) and recognizes that the great tribulation includes believers of the Gentile nations (812f). Dan Juster holds a similar view as Stern, saying "the Body of the Messiah is on earth during the days of the great tribulation until the seventh trumpet" (Revelation: The Passover Key, Destiny Image Pub., 1991, p. 32).

While Yeshua's words in the Olivet Discourse do have a particular application to Jews in Israel, this writer believes that the biblical evidence best supports the posttribulation view. One only needs to consider the scope of the word "elect" in all of Scripture, the global nature of the events described in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation 6, and the reality of Revelation 7:9 in which John saw a great international multitude standing before the throne. An angel of God explained in simple easy-to-understand words that all of these peoples came out of not just any tribulation, but "the great tribulation" (Rev 7:14).

There is absolutely no biblical evidence that God has changed the rules to exempt any of the saints, especially Christians, from suffering in the last days, including at the hands of the Antichrist. Nowhere does Scripture say that the great tribulation will be directed only at Jews. Question to ponder. Why should God do something for the Church at the end of the age that He’s never done before? The Rapture may be a purely academic dispute if virtually all the Church is martyred during the great tribulation. After all, the only ones John saw being protected during this time are Israelites (Rev 7:3; 12:6). (See my commentary on Revelation 7.) The idea that God would ensure that Christians get to party in heaven while Jews are going through hell on earth is totally repugnant.

Copyright © 2012 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.