There is much misunderstanding about God’s intent with the church in these latter days, whether ignorant or willful. People seem to forget or disregard that true believers are the Bride of Christ. The truth of the matter is that we are special. God has graciously given us the gift of His beloved Son to be joined with Him forever. We who have freely chosen to place our trust in Him are given certain privileges that no one else outside of Christ has. Scripture declares this again and again.
Most believers accept this and acknowledge that we are the elect of Christ. We have a positional relationship with Him that is absolutely unique and without precedence. God loves us. Jesus is our Savior and Lord. He is our older brother and bridegroom. God has grafted us into His family. We are adopted children in the Lord. Given this understanding, you would think that we would have uniform agreement as to the character of God. Surely, for those of us walking in obedience to Him, there is no need for His correction or rebuke, let alone for punishment. Why is one punished and receives the wrath of God? It’s because he was disobedient, engaged in sexual immorality, followed idols, or chose any path but the one which leads through the straight gate. This is clearly seen through the witness of Israel in the Old Testament.
Why then, if these are the reasons to be on the receiving end of God’s anger, do New Testament believers think we must go through some or all of the Tribulation? When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonika, he certainly didn’t believe those saints were destined to endure God’s wrath. He taught them for a limited time, only about three weeks, yet he made sure they knew about the hope of the return of Jesus. For that reason, he urged them multiple times to obey God in all they did. We see this in several verses of 1 Thessalonians 4:
v1 – how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more
v3 – that you abstain from sexual immorality
v4 – that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor
v5 – not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles
v6 – that no one transgress and wrong his brother
v7 – God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness
v8 – whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God
v9 – you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another
v10 – we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more
What was Paul’s reason for emphasizing righteousness in this church to the extent that he did? It was because of what he had taught about the promise of hope they had in Jesus Christ. In fact, they were so concerned about this that they asked Paul about their believing loved ones who had died. Did they have the same promise of resurrection and redemption from this earth as the living believers did?
Paul had to remind them that he had spoken of this while there teaching them. Just so they had no doubts, he reiterated that teaching so that they wouldn’t be uninformed (1 Thessalonians 4:13). In this epistle he declared that all would rise when Christ returned, first those asleep in the Lord (i.e. believers who had died), and then the living.
What an amazing promise! Can you imagine? As 1 Thessalonians 4:17 joyfully says:
… we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Paul was saying to this church: “Don’t blow it! Examine yourselves. Be sure that your heart toward God is pure. He will deliver you from this alien world.”
There is nothing Paul says regarding a faithful church walking in obedience to God that even hints that its congregation of true believers must face God’s wrath. This is the hope that children of God have. Remember, just a few paragraphs earlier in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 what Paul said about our Lord. We are:
… to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
What does it mean to wait? It means to complete a process which intensifies for the coming of something that is expected (Strong’s #362). That sure sounds like birth pains to me with an anticipated delivery, i.e. the Rapture. Wrath is something that teems or swells. It’s not a sudden outburst; rather it’s fixed or controlled, a passionate feeling against sin (Strong’s #3709), i.e. the Tribulation.
Are true believers in Christ subject to this rising tide of God’s anger? Of course not. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself. Just as the preceding verse says, He has delivered us from the wrath to come.
And what is that coming wrath? It is a day as Isaiah 24:6 says that:
… a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,
and few men are left.
Does this sound like a time when we who love God will be forced to endure? Surely this is a time of wrath from which the Lord delivers us.
And that’s the point. The pre-Tribulation Rapture is the only position that should make any sense to blood-bought believers in Jesus Christ. While the earth suffers its just punishment for its iniquities, we whose sins have been forgiven will spend the seven years of the Tribulation in the chambers of heaven with the Lord, safe and secure from all harm.
It’s for this reason that Paul can exhort this believing church in 1 Thessalonians 4:18:
Therefore encourage one another with these words.
And what an encouragement it is!