God's Purpose For The Tribulation


by Dr. Thomas Ice




Over the years I have done dozens of radio and television interview shows which include a time where listeners are permitted to call in with their questions about Bible prophecy. Since I am director of an organization that researches, teaches, and defends the pretribulational rapture teaching, I get many questions and comments relating to that subject. It is not hard to detect questions and comments that flow from an individual who is biblically informed verses those who speak from a position of mere human whim or opinion. The same is true of written correspondence. I have found that when it comes to the issue of the tribulation so many have not taken the time to let the Bible define the meaning and purpose for that future period of time.


A common statement made by some is as follows: "I believe that the church will go through the tribulation because the Bible says that we will suffer for our faith." The problem with such a statement is that while it may appear to have the veneer of biblical correctness, at core it betrays a lack of understanding of God's purpose for the tribulation. Certainly the Bible teaches that all through out the church age Believers will suffer persecution. This is taught by such passages as John 16:33b, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." And in 2 Timothy 3:12 "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." The question is will the church experience the trials of the tribulation? I have found that when a person is knowledgeable of what the Bible says is God's purpose for the tribulation, or any issue for that matter, then a very high percentage of those people will come to believe that the church will be taken in the rapture before the tribulation. What is God's purpose for the tribulation?


Start Of The Tribulation


First, we need to know that the tribulation in Bible prophecy is the period of time that begins with the signing of a covenant between Israel and the antichrist and ends seven years later at the second coming of Jesus Christ. The most extensive biblical comments on the tribulation are found in the writings of John, specifically in Revelation 6-19. In these chapters, John provides a detailed exposition of the tribulation days. Daniel's "70 weeks," prophesied in Daniel 9:24-27 are the framework within which the tribulation or the 70th week occurs. The seven-year period of Daniel's 70th week provides the time span with which a whole host of descriptives are associated. Some of those descriptive terms include: tribulation, great tribulation, day of the Lord, day of wrath, day of distress, day of trouble, time of Jacob's trouble, day of darkness and gloom, and wrath of the Lamb.


Judgment Nature Of The Tribulation


Second, God's basic purpose for the tribulation is that it be a time of judgment, while at the same time, He will hold forth the gospel of grace. This will precede Christ's glorious 1,000 year reign from David's throne in Jerusalem. Judgment, or God's wrath, is needed to put down the rebellion of mankind in preparation for Christ's reign of peace upon earth during the millennium.


The Goals Of The Tribulation


Third, while a number of goals for the tribulation could be given, there are a least three specific major purposes. Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum lists them as follows:


Gentile Judgment


Before the Lord can personally rule on earth in the Person of Jesus Christ He must first judge the world in order to prepare it for His righteous rule. Dr. Fruchtenbaum says that the first purpose for the tribulation is,


ĄTo make an end of wickedness and wicked ones (Isaiah 13:9; 24:19-20)--The first purpose for the tribulation is seen to be a punishment in history upon the whole world for its sins against God, in a way similar to that of the global flood in Noah's days (Matthew 24:37-39).[1]


Deuteronomy 30:7 tells us that God will "inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you." This will take place during the tribulation and will be retribution to the nations for how they have treated the Jews during the last 2,000 years. This purpose does not encompass the church.


World-Wide Evangelism


The seven-year tribulation will be a time of phenomenal evangelistic outreach. It will be a time unlike any previous period of history. Dr. Fruchtenbaum explains:


ĄTo bring about a world-wide revival--This purpose is given and fulfilled in Revelation 7:1-17. During the first half of the tribulation, God will evangelize the world by the means of the 144,000 Jews and thus fulfill the prophecy found in Matthew 24:14.[2]


In addition to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, there will be normal evangelism taking place like we see today. Further, the Two Witnesses will provide an evangelistic witness to Israel. Finally, at the mid-point of the tribulation Revelation 14 tells us that God Himself will use angels to preach the gospel and warn "earth dwellers" not to take the mark of the beast-666.


The three angelic announcements are as follows: First, an angel will preach "an eternal gospel . . . to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Revelation 14:6). Second, the next angel will make the following pronouncement: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality" (Revelation 14:8). Finally, the last angelic proclamation will specifically warn every person on earth not to take the mark of the beast, since doing so will result in their eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand . . . he will be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . forever and ever" (Revelation 14:9-11). This tribulation purpose also does not include the church.


Conversion of Israel


One of the most glorious and important purposes of the tribulation will be the conversion of Israel. Dr. Fruchtenbaum tell us,


ĄTo break the power of the holy people--Israel--Finally, the tribulation will be a time in which God, through evil agencies, prepares Israel for her conversion and acknowledgment that Jesus is their Messiah, resulting in the second coming of Christ.[3]


The Bible teaches us that God will use the tribulation to bring His elect people to faith in Jesus as their Messiah. When we put together the biblical information it appears that God will accomplish this goal in the following way: First, the Lord will return Israel to the land before the tribulation, the time of God's wrath. "I shall bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out (Ezekiel 20:34). The regathering before the tribulation is what our Lord has been doing since 1948 with the modern state of Israel.


Once the tribulation begins He "shall make you pass under the rod, and I shall bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I shall purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I shall bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 20:37-38). This tells us that the unbelieving Jews ("the rebels") will be removed during the tribulation.


In an interesting passage that speaks of "My Associate," which is an obvious prophetic reference to Jesus The Messiah (Zechariah 13:7-9), Zechariah gives us a numeric ratio that will be purged. "And it will come about in all the land," Declares the Lord, "That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' And they will say, 'The Lord is my God.'" (Zechariah 13:8-9) Therefore, we learn that two-thirds of Israel will be purged through the fire of the tribulation, leaving the one-third elect who will be converted to Jesus as their Messiah. Thus, "all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins'" (Romans 11:26-27). What a glorious day that will be! Israel will be converted to Jesus as their Messiah resulting in the second coming, which will in turn give rise the millennial reign of Christ. The church is no where to be found in these tribulational activities.




While many people think the tribulation will involve the church, the Bible does not provide support for such a notion. Instead, Scripture informs us of at least a three-fold purpose for the coming tribulation, none of which involves the church. The New Testament teaches that the church will be taken at the rapture to be with the Lord before the tribulation begins, because God has not destined His bride for His wrath (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Revelation 3:10). Other groups of redeemed individuals will go through the tribulation, but not Christ's bride, the church.



Part II


God's Purpose for Israel During The Tribulation


Purging Out The Rebel


One of the major Divine purposes for the tribulation in relation to Israel is the conversion of the Jewish remnant to faith in Jesus as their Messiah. This will take place throughout the tribulation, but by the end of the seven-year period the entire number of the elect remnant will become converted to Jesus. That number is likely a third of the Jewish people as noted in Zechariah 13:9. "And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is my God.'" As part of the process of bringing the Jewish remnant to faith Zechariah 13:8 speaks of a purging out of the non-elect Jewish element from the nation. "'And it will come about in all the land,' declares the Lord, 'that two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it.'" The Old Testament prophets speak frequently of the purging out of the Jewish non-elect during the tribulation.


Ezekiel 20:33-38 is a major passage that speaks of a Jewish regathering to their ancient land, which must take place before the tribulation, in preparation for the purging of the non-elect Israelites called in this passage "the rebels" (Ezek. 20:38). "'As I live,' declares the Lord God, 'surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you. And I shall bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out; and I shall bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I shall enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you,' declares the Lord God. 'And I shall make you pass under the rod, and I shall bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I shall purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me'" (Ezek. 20:33-38a). The phrase "to pass under the rod" is one of evaluation and separation. The purging process will result in removal of the rebel, leaving the believing remnant who will then be brought "into the bond of the covenant" (Ezek. 20:37).


In a similar vein, two chapters later, Ezekiel receives another revelation about a future regathering of national Israel (Ezek. 22:17-22). This time, the Lord is "going to gather you into the midst of Jerusalem" (Ezek. 22:19). Like the metallurgist, the Lord will use the fire of the tribulation to purge out the unfaithful. The Lord is going to "gather you [Israel] and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you will be melted in the midst of it" (Ezek. 22:21). In this passage, "My wrath" depicts the time of the tribulation. It also follows here that the nation must be regathered before that event can take place. The outcome of this event will be that the nation "will know that I, the Lord, have poured out My wrath on you" (Ezek. 22:22). Israel is back in her land, awaiting the purging fire of the tribulation that will remove the non-elect and reveal the remnant.


Again we read of "the time of Jacob's trouble" in Jeremiah 30:7. It is said to compare to the sorrows that one faces in childbirth (Jer. 30:6), "but he will be saved from it" (Jer. 30:7, 11). The remnant will be saved through this time of trouble, which is clearly the tribulation. The Lord will chasten that nation of Israel during this time. "Only I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly, and will by no means leave you unpunished" (Jer. 30:11). This chastisement will result in Israel's conversion: "And you shall be My people, And I will be your God" (Jer. 30:22). Jeremiah says that these things will occur "in the latter days" (Jer. 30:24).


The prophecies of Daniel 12 are set within the timeframe of the tribulation (Dan. 12:1). "Many will be purged, purified and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand" (Dan. 12:10). We see in this passage the continued theme of purging out the non-elect Jews during the tribulation but also see the rescue or salvation of the elect. These events are said to occur during "the end time" (Dan. 12:9).


A number of other passages speak of the need to refine the Jewish people, often in association with the city of Jerusalem (Isa. 1:22, 25; 48:10; Jer. 6:27-30; 9:7; Mal. 3:2-3). Arnold Fruchtenbaum tells us, "As a purified, believing nation, they will then turn to the Lord. Here again he speaks of worldwide regathering in unbelief in preparation for a specific future judgment, but the purpose of the judgment is to bring them to national repentance." [1]


The Condition for The Second Coming


Many Christians are surprised to learn that the second coming is a rescue event. Jesus will return to planet earth in order to rescue the believing Jewish remnant that is on the verge of being destroyed during the Campaign of Armageddon. I think this is what Paul speaks of in Romans 10 when he tell us, "'Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.' How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:13-14). In other words, the Jewish people are going to have to be Believers in Jesus as their Messiah in order to be rescued by Him at the second advent. This is exactly what will happen.


The Old and New Testaments teach that before Christ can return to earth for His millennial kingdom the nation of Israel must be converted to Jesus as their Messiah and call on Him to save them. This is taught throughout the Bible (Lev. 26:40-42; Jer. 3:11-18; Hosea 5:15; Zech. 12:10; Matt. 23:37-39; Acts 3:19-21).


Hosea 5:15 tells us, "I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." "Until" tells us that the nation will one day turn to the Lord, as does the following context. Jesus Himself spoke an important "until" to the nation in Matthew 23:39 when He said, "For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'" The Apostle Peter tells the Jewish nation that they will not see Jesus again until they: "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time" (Acts 3:19-21). "This, then, is the twofold basis of the Second Coming; Israel must confess her national sin." explains Fruchtenbaum, "and then plead for Messiah to return, to mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son." [2]


The National Conversion of Israel


The Bible teaches that one day the nation of Israel will return to the Lord their God. This will occur by the end of the tribulation and is the purpose for the time of Jacob's trouble. Many passages teach the future conversion of the Jews to Jesus as their Messiah (Psa. 79:1-13; 80:1-19; Isa. 53:1-9; 59:20-21; 61:8-9; 64:1-12; Jer. 30:3-24; 31:31-40; 32:37-40; 50:4-5; Ezek. 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 34:25-26; 36:24-32; 37:21-28; Hosea 6:1-3; Joel 2:28-32; Zech. 9:11; 12:10-13:9; Rom. 11:25-27). Hosea 6:1-2 is one of the most interesting passages on the future conversion of the nation of Israel. "Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him."




The Bible clearly teaches that the time of Jacob's trouble (the tribulation), in which the non-elect Jews are to be purged out and removed, while the remaining believing remnant will the saved (both spiritually and physically), did not occur through events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Sorry Mr. DeMar, but try as you might, through your naturalist interpretations, you cannot not ram, cram and jam these supernatural events into the first century. These texts of Scripture just do not fit! Instead, they require a future fulfillment for a literal nation of Israel. Fruchtenbaum says, "Only by faith in the Son of Man can Israel be regenerated. Only by calling upon the Name of the Lord can Israel be saved spiritually. Only by the return of the Son of Man can Israel be saved physically." Yet, that is exactly what will occur in the future in the tribulation.[3] The Lord is setting the stage for these future events since He has brought His chosen people back to their land in anticipation of both the purging of the non-elect and the redemption of the elect. Maranatha!




[1] Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, (Tustin, CA: 1982, pp. 122-23.


[2] Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps, pp. 123-25.


[3] Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps, pp. 125-26.



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