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The Great Tribulation—Rev. 7:14

by Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945)

Arno C. GaebeleinIts Relation to the Jew, the Church and the Gentile

Our blessed Lord in the close of His farewell discourse to His beloved disciples, said emphatically, "Ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). The historical record of the past nineteen centuries amply verifies the divine statement.

Present Tribulation

God's people have ever been a suffering yet rejoicing company—a seeming paradoxical statement, yet a true one. The Christian state is an enigma to the world; they cannot understand it—"sorrowful yet alway rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10).

The pathway to the Kingdom, with its no night and no tears, is not one of ease, but of much tribulation. For Christ it was first the suffering, then the glory; first the crown of thorns, now the crown of glory. It is the same, the very same path and order for the redeemed host of the twentieth century. The wilderness, with its tears and sobs, precedes the Kingdom with its many joys and glories.

Triumph and Downfall

The weakest moment of the Church's history immediately precedes her triumphant ascension to glory. Her weakness and failure are exchanged for the strength and grandeurs of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12). On the other hand, the proud boast of Christendom, "I have need of nothing," and Christ outside, while surrounding herself with the splendor of the world and rising to the highest apex of pride; then, from the dizzy mountain-top, she sinks into the bottomless depths of a fathomless eternal degradation from which she never rises. Heaven celebrates her downfall (Rev. 19:1-5).
The Church is glory and a Christless Christendom in hell is the certain consummation of present events, which loudly declare The Lord is at Hand!

This Dispensation

We are nearing the close of this Dispensation, and on the threshold of the brief prophetic period of judgment detailed in the prophets and in the central part of the Revelation. The saints of this Christian age are delivered from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10)—be it governmental or eternal, "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation" (1 Thess. 5:9). Ere the day of the Lord bursts suddenly upon apostate Christendom—as a thief in the night—we, the changed living and the raised holy dead, shall have been translated to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16,17). The Lord's words in John 14:3; 11:25,26, and Paul's revelation in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, preclude the erroneous thought of a special worthy or faithful class. Those texts embrace all the saints of this Christian Dispensation, as also those of Old Testament times.

It is frequently said and written that every Dispensation closes up in judgment. We can but give a qualified assent to that oft-repeated statement. This age is the most lengthened of the Dispensations. It is one full of Gospel light and grandly lit up with the moral glories of the Cross unutterable in expression. Its inauguration was by the Lord in Person risen from the dead (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). The age has its finale in the triumphant shout of the redeemed, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Such is the cry of the conquering host caught up to meet the Lord in the air. On the other hand, the translation of the heavenly saints seals the doom of Christendom. The truth is that the Dispensation closes in triumph on the one hand, and judgment on the other. Every past and future age has its dark and bright, its night and day.

The Coming Great Tribulation

is distinct in character and time from the ordinary troubles of life now willingly endured because of their present value (James 1:2-4) and future blessed results (1 Peter 1:6,7). The Great Tribulation is yet future. It refers to a prophetically foretold and exact period measured to a day, in which the vengeance of God will fall in crushing effect upon apostate Judaism and on the equally apostate Christendom.

The Great Tribulation refers to the time when Satan and his angels are cast down from heaven to earth (Rev. 12:9). The Dragon is the unseen yet nevertheless the real instigator of the Great Tribulation. The Beast, the Antichrist, the Assyrian, etc., are Satan's chiefs in the accomplishment of his purpose, which is to wreck the testimony of God and fill the prophetic scene with crime and sorrow. The expulsion of Satan and his militant hosts from heaven is the great and determining factor in bringing about the Tribulation. When cast down to the earth, in his baffled rage, he seeks to wreak his vengeance on the Woman, i.e., Israel (Rev. 22), then with the remnant (verse 17). But the Church, the heavenly saints, are then in heaven and rejoice in Satan's downfall, "Rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them." Note the contrast, "Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and the sea." These latter are not believers, but apostates from Jews and Gentiles. At that awful period the Dispensation is entirely changed. It is one of righteous judgment. We repeat, no living saint of this Dispensation, which is one of grace, need have the slightest dread of finding himself in the Great Tribulation; it is a causeless fear from which may God graciously deliver every reader of these pages.

Satan's two chief lieutenants through whom he specially works are the Beast (a Gentile) and the Antichrist (a Jew). Those two men are apostates and are probably alive today and being trained in secret. When the hour arrives for their public manifestation and to enter upon their Satanic mission, the Devil will know where to find them. God has decreed the Great Tribulation. The time, the agents, the sufferers, its duration, the circumstances, and every detail thereof are before God. History and Prophecy, with the movements of men and history, are directed by God and made subservient to His will and purpose. What a strength to the human heart to know that God is in all and over all!

The Horror of the Tribulation-Crisis

The Temple defiled, Jerusalem laid in heaps, the dead of the people contemptuously thrown to the birds and beasts, the blood of the people flowing through the streets of Jerusalem, and no burial of the slain, the insulting taunt of the heathen: "Where is their God?" (Psa. 79). Jerusalem besieged and taken, the houses rifled, the women vilely used by a licentious soldiery, captivity and other horrors (Zech. 14). The chosen witnesses of that day in Jerusalem itself, not simply the people, shall seal their testimony with their blood; no burial, no graves are allowed them; the Gentiles make merry and rejoice over the slain witnesses. What a scene (Rev. 11)! The foregoing horrors and others too numerous to mention make up a page of yet unwritten history, the blackest ever penned, of murder, blood, lust, blasphemy, and of unrestrained violence. We close this dark picture of human depravity in that startling and comprehensive statement contained in Mark 13:19: "For in those days shall be affliction such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be." The climax of human trouble is reached in the Great Tribulation, and never exceeded before it or after it (see also Matt. 24:21).

Shortening of the Tribulation

"And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matt. 24:22; see also Mark 13:20).

The 70th Week of prophecy—an exact period of seven years (Dan. 9:24,27)—runs its course between the Translation (1 Thess. 4:17) and the Appearing (Matt. 24:30). The week of years is divided into two equal parts, each three and a half years. The second half of the week is expressly noted in Daniel 9:27, and is referred to in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 as marking the commencement of the Great Tribulation which lasts exactly 1,260 days. Three years and a half is 1,277½ days. Thus the Tribulation is shortened by 17½ days. The Beast (the fourth Empire revived) is the persecutor of the witnesses in Jerusalem (Rev. 11:3,7) and of the saints in Judea and Christendom (Rev. 13:7). Now the adherents and worshippers of the Beast suffer under the first vial of wrath (Rev. 16:2), while the Beast itself in its executive and capital (Rome) is visited in severest judgment (verses 10,11). Necessarily the Beast cannot persecute and murder while itself is undergoing the angry vengeance of God. The vials are poured out at and after the 1,260 days of Tribulation and before the expiry of the 70th Week of prophecy. Thus the days are shortened. The tribulation ceases before the last half of the Week runs out. Were the days not shortened no flesh could be saved. Israel would be wiped out (Rom. 9:29).

Double Suffering

Saints of God in the coming crisis are a sad and sorrowful people. They share in the afflictions of the Jewish nation from the Northern foe, the Assyrian (Isa. 10, or King of the North (Dan. 11). This fierce, cruel and determined enemy of the restored Hebrew commonwealth enters the land, murders and plunders at his will, and fills the country with lamentation and woe. In all this Jewish godly saints suffer as part of the nation then under the governmental wrath of God. On the other hand, the Beast and his coadjutor, the Antichrist, inflict untold suffering upon the saints, while politically favoring and supporting the nation.

No Dread of the Tribulation

No living saint of this Dispensation need fear having to pass through the Great Tribulation. On this Scripture is emphatic. "We wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead; Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10). Be the wrath governmental or eternal, we are delivered from it. The Church is removed to her heavenly home and rest before the Tribulation bursts forth. The saints are in glory in heaven before and when Satan is cast down to the earth, and consequently before he stirs up and lets loose the hosts of hell and earth in the Great Tribulation. All saints of this Dispensation are immune from judicial judgment.

Faithful and Unfaithful

It is said that only a faithful company of saints will, in the first instance, be translated to meet the Lord, while the unfaithful will be left to be disciplined in passing through the sorrows of the Tribulation. But is this so? We have conversed with many who hold and teach this erroneous view, and have not yet received a satisfactory reply to our oft-repeated question: What is the measure of faithfulness needed to earn the distinguished blessing of translation to meet the Lord in the air? "While the bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept" (Matt. 25:5). We welcome every exhortation to personal holiness in heart and life, but how any saint could lay claim to the blessedness of Translation on the ground of merit surprises us. "They that are Christ's at His Coming" (1 Cor. 15:23) is decisive. In John 11:25,26 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 the terms employed shut out the idea of a special company of saints—"liveth and believeth" and "alive and remain" apply to every living saint of God at the Coming. But why draw the line at the living? Why not apply the principle to the dead, many of whom were unfaithful in their day and generation? We are certain that it is not meant, but nevertheless the idea we combat is an attack upon the sovereignty of divine grace. The exponents of this theory are not as a rule happy. We have had this confession from more than one.

The Six Tribulation Passages

We know of but six passages which directly refer to the Great Tribulation.

First, Jeremiah 30:7: "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." The text forms part of an address which "the Lord spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah" (verse 4). The simple question is, To whom does the text refer—to Jews or Gentiles? To the Jewish people undoubtedly. Here Gentiles are excluded and Jews alone included. Nor is there the slightest ground in applying it to the Church, which was not then formed nor known in Old Testament times.

Second, Daniel 12:1: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time, and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." The expression "thy people" occurs twice. The people of the Hebrew prophet were the Jews. Now, this passage must refer to the same period specially spoken of by Matthew 24:21 and Mark 13:19. There can only be one such time in human history. The Great Tribulation is future. Michael, the prince of the heavenly angelic hierarchy, appears on behalf of Israel in the day of her greatest trouble—"which standeth for the children of thy people." It is the children of Daniel's people who will be in the Tribulation. But the deliverance of the remnant is divinely assured—"saved out of it," says Jeremiah. "Thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book," writes Daniel. The deliverance is not national but individual. The deliverance of all Israel from her sins and her enemies is most certain, but deliverance from the Great Tribulation is true only of an elect number. The concluding chapter of this great book of prophecy is cast in Jewish mould. We may add that verse 11, as marking the significant moment when the Tribulation commences, is expressly referred to by our Lord in His Olivet prophetic discourse, (Matt. 24:15).

Third, Matthew 24:15-28. This is the fullest and most detailed description of the Great Tribulation in Holy Writ. You cannot get either the Gentile or the Church into this portion of Holy Scripture. The Jewish people alone are in the forefront of this part of prophecy. Judea and its mountains, Jerusalem and the Temple form the platform on which the scenes are actually realized. The sudden flight, the limitation of a Sabbath day's journey, less than a mile (Acts 1:12), and other local circumstances positively forbid the application to any save to Jews in Palestine. Verses 23 and 24 could have no weight or meaning to people in Gentile lands. They are of direct Jewish bearing. This deeply interesting part of the Lord's great prophetic sermon, delivered on Mount Olivet, expressly refers to Judea and the Jews, and, of course, to the flight and deliverance of an earthly Jewish remnant.

Fourth, Mark 13:14-23. The Evangelist practically covers the same ground as Matthew in his fuller account of the Tribulation. When this remarkable discourse was spoken the Church was not then in existence. Matthew 16:18 speaks of it as then future. The Church came into view consequent on the ascension of our Lord. The place and circumstances could not apply to Gentiles. Our remarks on the Matthew account of the Tribulation equally apply to Mark's graphic story of it.

Fifth, Revelation 3:10: "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation [trial] which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth." The Great Tribulation is not specifically named, but is clearly indicated in the expression "the hour of trial," which, while focused in Jerusalem, will yet extend in its effects to the whole habitable earth. Its agonies will be endured more especially by the Jews in Palestine as being the most guilty, but the Gentiles, too, according to the measure of their guilt, will have to drink of the cup of the Lord's vengeance. From this the Church is exempted, "because thou hast kept the word of My patience." This does not refer to the patience of Christ on earth, but to His present patience at God's right hand. He patiently waits on high till Jehovah puts His enemies under His feet (Psa. 90). He waits for His Throne, Crown, and Kingdom. The Church waits with Him and for Him (Rev. 1:9). Is not this the reckoning of grace? Can we truthfully say that the Church is on the tip-top of expectation, straining her eyes for Him? Alas! no. But God reckons it so, and that is grace. In the Lord's Prayer (John 17) we have those gracious words recorded, "they have kept Thy Word"; yet on that same night we read, "Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled" (Matt. 26:56). Grace goes down to the root of our being, finds love to Christ there, and God reckons love's desires as accomplished. Here, then, is Christ's guarantee to the Church and to every member thereof, "I will keep thee out of (ek) the hour of trial." Out of it absolutely. No part of the Church will pass through the Great Tribulation to purge itself from its unfaithfulness, as some say. We cannot for a moment allow the Church to be broken up in this heartless manner. One portion with the Lord on high, and the other in the horrors of the Tribulation. Christ died that He might "gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad" (John 11:52). Laodicea is to be spued out (Rev. 3:16), while, the true saints are to be gathered up to meet the Lord in the air.

Lot and Noah were each preserved through the respective tribulations of their days. On the other hand, Enoch and Abraham were kept from or out of these seasons of trial. It is these latter which figure the Church. Total, absolute exemption from the coming world-wide Tribulation is the fixed promise of our God in His Word. May every fear and dread be dispelled from the heart of the weakest saint!

Sixth, Revelation 7:13,14: "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, These which are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And I said unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (R.V.).

There are two great companies described in this chapter, both on earth. (1) A carefully numbered company out of all Israel (verses 2-8). The hundred and forty and four thousand of chapter 14, standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion, are the preserved of Judah who had emerged out of the fiery trial of the Great Tribulation; whereas those of our chapter are of all Israel. It is not predicated of these latter that they had been in the Tribulation. (2) A countless throng of Gentiles out of the numerous nationalities of earth are next witnessed (verses 9-17). It is not they came out of the Great Tribulation as the record of a past act, but come out—a characteristically present action. They are on the earth, not in heaven. There is not a hint of their translation to heaven. We gather that it is the same company as the sheep of Matthew 25:31-33, but here viewed in the Kingdom in millennial blessing. These Gentile Tribulation-saints cannot possibly be part of the Church. The saints of Old and New Testaments were caught up to glory, and the marriage of the Lamb with the guests at supper (Rev. 19) are events prior to the millennial scene of Revelation 7, which is an anticipatory vision explained by one of the elders—representatives of the redeemed in heaven. When the vision of chapter 7 is realized—resolved into fact—the full company of heavenly saints had already been made up. The countless throng of Gentile Tribulation-saints are viewed in vision before the marriage of the Lamb, when, of course, the Church is and must be complete. But the vision is only realized—resolved into fact—after the marriage scene of Revelation 19. These Gentile saints, therefore, form no part of the Church.


Four of the passages we have been considering show Jews in the Tribulation. One proves that the Church is absolutely kept out of it. The remaining passage views a countless multitude of Gentiles coming out of the Great Tribulation.

Our heart goes out in increasing love to the beloved saints of God, irrespective of sect or party, and we greatly desire their spiritual blessing and freedom from this "partial rapture" theory as it is termed. We are convinced that it is hurtful to souls and tends to legalism, occupation with self and not with Christ.

From Meat in Due Season: Sermons, Discourses and Expositions of the Word of Prophecy by Arno C. Gaebelein. New York: Arno C. Gaebelein, Inc., [19--?].

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