The Wrath of God is Not the Tribulation
A common myth in Western Christianity is that when Jesus spoke about a season of "great tribulation" (Matt 24:21,) He was talking about God's wrath which occurs at the Day of the Lord. This misunderstanding, along with another often quoted scripture, "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:9), has lead many to the erroneous and unbiblical conclusion that the Rapture of the Church will happen prior to what has become known as "the Great Tribulation." A whole book could be written on the subject, but let us just address one problem in the space of this blog post. Jesus never uses these two words, "tribulation" and "wrath," interchangeably. In fact, in only one verse, could I find any hint of tribulation being equated with the judgement of God. The preponderance of evidence points to
1) the Church enduring tribulation from the World, and
2) the World enduring the wrath of God on the Day of the Lord.
If we are going to rightly divide the Word of truth, we must first understand the words that are chosen in these passages, and utilize the definitions originally indented for them, and not our western "christian" presuppositions.
These two words in Greek, are actually very easy to understand. Let us first look at the Greek word which has been translated "tribulation," In this context: it is the word "thlipsis". According to Strong's Concordance the meaning of this word is "persecution, affliction, distress.". It is helpful to look at other passages where this word is used, so we can understand the full meaning. Take Matthew 13: 20-21, where Jesus gives the interpretation for the parable of the sower: "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution (thlipsis) arises because of the word, immediately he falls away." So in this passage Jesus explains that believers will experience "thlipsis" (persecution) because of the Word, and the ones on "rocky soil" will quickly fall away when that persecution comes. Notice, Jesus tells us that these people will "receive it [the word] with joy," but have "no firm root." We learn, some believers according to Jesus, will fall away, not because Jesus is rejecting them, but they are walking away from the faith when persecution comes. Notice also, there is no mention of God's wrath in this context. Let's see where else this word thlipsis is used in the New Testament.
Coming back to Matthew 24, Jesus, responding to the disciples query about the Sign of His Coming and the End of the Age, prophesies this: “then they will deliver you to tribulation (thlipsis), and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another." (Matt 24:9 &10) This sounds quite similar to the parable of the sower, does it not? [Side note: some people incorrectly claim this passage is intended for the Jews, but the problem is that it is the same group of disciples, to whom Jesus was speaking here, that He gave the Great Commission and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Are not those passages obviously for the church? So we logically conclude, either Jesus was speaking to the Church in all thee instances (the Great Commission, Parable of the Virgins, and Prediction for Persecution) or He was not. Further, what non-believing Jewish person is going to be hated and killed because of Jesus' name? All logic points to this being a statement for the Church.] Again, we see Jesus promising persecution (thlipsis) to the Church and a great falling away (for those who have no root.)
In John 16:21 Jesus explains how the disciples will feel sorrow while the world rejoices at His death, but that they will experience joy afterward. "Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world." Notice here the word thlipsis is being translated "anguish" and it is this analogy of a woman travailing in labor. And to what did Jesus tell us the End Times would be similar? Birth pains; it will be like a woman in labor. We should expect a thlipsis (suffering: birth pains) to happen prior to Jesus return. And to whom does the suffering happen? Believers. Much more could be said on this topic.Here are just a handful of the forty-five other New Testament usages.
Acts 14:20-22 "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations (thlipsis) we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Acts 20: 22-23 "And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions (thlipsis) await me."
Romans 5:3-5 "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations (thlipsis), knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
Romans 8:35-36 "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation (thlipsis), or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
1 Thess 3:2-4 "and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions (thlipsesin); for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction (thlibesthai) ; and so it came to pass, as you know.
In each case we see that it is believers who are called to suffer "thlipsis" for the name of Christ. Now, let us address the word translated "wrath" and it's implications. First, the word translated "wrath" in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (mentioned above), is the word "orge," and according to Strong's Concordance means "anger, wrath, punishment, vengeance." Over and over, these verses contain references to the wrath of God in the outpouring of His judgement on the Earth on the Day of the Lord. Here are just a few.
John 3: 35-36 "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath (ogre) of God abides on him.”
Luke 3:7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath (orge) to come?
Romans 2:5 "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath (orge) for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,"
So as we can see, the word's thlipsis (tribulation/affliction) and orge (wrath) have two totally different meanings and are not used synonymously in scripture. Therefore, we must not use these terms interchangeably because they are referring to different End Times events. If one uses these terms incorrectly, and non-biblically, it will lead to wrong conclusions about what will happen during the Last Days. I want to make sure you are not like the shallow rooted plants of which Jesus spoke, that faded quickly under the heat of persecution. Dig deep into the Word of God which is soil that will lead to life everlasting in Christ. Remember "He who stands firm to the end will be saved." -Jesus