“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). When I read these words of Jesus’ intercessory prayer to the Father, I thought that although He was praying for the disciples, these words could apply to us today. I also thought of the rapture and how many Christians believe that the Lord is going to rapture the church before the great tribulation. This is a very comforting but very dangerous doctrine.
I thought of Noah and his family. They were here on earth when the great flood came. God kept them safely in the ark. The Israelites were in Egypt when God sent the plagues. When the plague of death claimed all the first born of Egypt, the first born of the Israelites were protected once they had the blood of the lamb smeared on the doorposts. It is important to point out that the Israelites did not leave Egypt until after the plagues. Other examples are Joseph whom God helped through his trials; Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego who came through the fiery furnace, after they had made up their minds that even if God decided not to save them, they would not commit idolatry; Daniel in the den of lions. All these people were not saved from their tribulations but God saw them through them.
Jesus warned the disciples that they would suffer for His name sake. He warned them, “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute [you], delivering [you] up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:12). Peter and John were arrested, beaten for preaching that Jesus rose from the dead; James was killed by Herod who wanted to score points with the Jews. Paul and Silas were arrested. Stephen was stoned to death. The church was relentlessly persecuted by Saul who was a Pharisee in the strictest sense. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, persecuted and died a martyr. John was exiled to the isle of Patmos.
For 1,260 years, God’s people faced terrible persecution during the Dark Ages. We learn about this in Revelation 12:6, 13: “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and threescore days.” “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman.” The woman here is the church. Many believers had to flee into the mountains for refuge. On a Great Controversy tour, a group of us went into one of the caves in the village of Torre Pellice where the Waldensian families worshipped. It was dark, cold and damp. As we stood there, our thoughts drifted back to the many people, including children and very old people who chose to die rather than give up their faith in Jesus and in His Word. We sang “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. It was a very emotional experience. I prayed that if I lived to face persecution in the last days, that I would remain steadfast in my faith as those brave Christians.
Jesus told the disciples, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13). Notice Jesus said, that the person who endures to the end shall be saved. This doesn’t sound like this person will be plucked from the fiery trials but will be saved if he holds on to his faith which will enable him to come through those trials. God is calling on a people with the faith of Jesus who will endure whatever the enemy throws their way and overcome.
John saw people dressed in white robes and learned that they “are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). These may be the elect whom Jesus spoke of when He said, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” Matthew 24:22, NKJV.
It is believed that the great tribulation corresponds with the time during which the seven last plagues of Revelation chapter 16 will fall. In the preceding chapter, we read, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.” Revelation 15:1. Paul reveals to us whom God’s wrath is directed at in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” These people are guilty of breaking God’s law, distorting His truth and oppressing His people.
The great tribulation also coincides with the Battle of Armageddon. Both take place immediately before Christ’s second coming. “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done” (Amazing Facts).
So it is clear that while God’s people will be present here on earth during this time, they will endure because the days will be shortened. So it is clear in the Bible that there were two great tribulations–the one during the Dark Ages when the Roman Church persecuted believers–accusing them of heresy and the one to come just before Jesus returns. And again God’s people will be persecuted for their faith. And those who refuse to forsake their faith and God’s truth will be killed (Revelation 13:15).
In Revelation 3, Jesus gives a low down of what will become of those who overcome to the end. “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (verse 5). “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And [I will write on him] My new name” (verse 12). “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (verse 21). In Revelation 21:7 “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
Jesus encouraged His disciples with these words, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of goodcheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus didn’t spare them the hardships they would endure but offered them words of encouragement. He didn’t ask His Father to remove them from the world but to keep them–to watch over them–to protect them from the enemy. It is the same thing for us. Jesus wouldn’t ask the Father to remove us from the world so that we would not face the great tribulation. Instead, He would ask the Father to preserve us–to bring us through the tribulation. We have to hang on to our faith and press on.
We must not lose heart and believe that we will be spared the great tribulation. Christianity is not about comfort. The way is narrow and we will encounter hardships. Many will lose their lives for their faith but don’t be discouraged. Let these words of Jesus to the Smyrna church who suffered a 10-year period of tribulation from 303-313 , give you courage: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw [some] of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Let us press on in the race so that we like, Paul can declare, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Remember, God does not always provide us a way out of tribulation but He carries us through. He gives us the power and strength we need to endure. Those who are going to live during the last great tribulation can cling to the promises of Psalm 91: You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, [Nor] of the arrow [that] flies by day, [Nor] of the pestilence [that] walks in darkness, [Nor] of the destruction [that] lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; [But] it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD, [who is] my refuge, [Even] the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Psalm 91:5-10). The wrath of God will not touch His people. It is reserved for the wicked and so are the plagues.
God does not want you to live in fear. Just continue to live in faith. Jesus will be there with you during the great tribulation just as He was with the disciples when they were caught in the storm at sea or the three Hebrew friends who were in the furnace that was heated seven times over. “Remember His promise, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Jesus has promised, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also” (John 14:2, 3). Hold fast until the day comes when Jesus returns to take us to the place He has prepared for us. During those dark hours, turn your eyes upon Jesus.