I once preached an entire message in which I said several times: "The Church will not go through the Rapture." That was one of those times, in the passion of preaching, that the wrong words slipped off my tongue! I'm just glad no one stood up and shouted me down as a heretic!
"Will the church experience the Tribulation?" That is an excellent question. Some believe the church will go through the Tribulation. They believe God will use this time of testing to purify the church. Others believe the Tribulation will not take place at all. So how can we experience something that will not happen? Still others believe we are going through the Tribulation right now! Another group believes the Tribulation has already occurred--this is what the first century church experienced. There is no denying that the early church went through a severe persecution, but so is the church today in many regions of the world. And that does not explain the terminal language that the Bible uses--that the Tribulation will usher in the new age of God's kingdom established on this earth and Christ Jesus reigning as it's Ruler. That certainly has not happened yet!
The Tribulation is that seven-year period when the antichrist will appear on this earth, gain control, and lead a persecution of unprecedented proportions against the people of God. It will end with the return of Christ to this earth, at which time He will destroy the antichrist--and his followers--and subsequently establish His kingdom on this earth.
So, will the church go through that? My answer is "No," and what follows are my reasons why I say that:
The Nature of the Tribulation
The Tribulation is that period of time when God's judgment will be poured out on this earth. The Bible refers to this as "the Day of the Lord." This world rejected Christ (John 1:10, 11). The price of that rejection is judgment.
However, there are many who have not rejected Christ. They have received Him as their Savior and Lord (John 1:12). Therefore, this judgment does not apply to them. The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage the Believers in Thessalonica: "About the times and the seasons: Brothers, you do not need anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. When they say, 'Peace and safety,' then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains come on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the dark, for this day to overtake you like a thief" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4). Notice the pronouns "you," "they," and "them." Paul was clearly making a distinction between two different groups. What he says is, in effect, "I do not need to write to you about this because this applies to them--this has nothing to do with you." The purpose of the Tribulation is to judge this Christ-rejecting world. Therefore, the church will escape this judgment.
The Plain Teaching of Scripture
Prophecy runs like a steady stream throughout the Bible. But there are two places where that stream widens into a mighty river: Daniel and Revelation. In chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation Jesus dictated letters to seven local churches. But after chapter 3 the church is not mentioned or seen again until chapter 19, where she is in heaven at the marriage of the Lamb. The question is: how and when did the church come to be in heaven? The most plausible answer is: the church was raptured immediately prior to the Tribulation.
The Promises of Christ's Imminent Return
"Imminent" means that Jesus Christ could return for His people at any moment. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus said, "But of that day and that hour no one knows except My Father in heaven." Jesus said He would come "like a thief in the night." A thief's advantage is the element of surprise. He does not announce when he will come. If Jesus were to return at the end--or even in the middle--of the Tribulation, then we could calculate almost precisely the time of His return. The only time He can come when it will be a total surprise is just before the Tribulation begins.
The Finished Work of Christ
The Day of the Lord is the time of God's judgment poured out on this earth. When Jesus was on the cross He cried, "It is finished"--meaning that the penalty for my sins had been paid in full. If I should have to endure the Tribulation then I could make a case that this is not true--that my penalty was not paid in full--that I have to pay the difference by experiencing some further judgment. The question is: Was Christ's death sufficient or not? If it was then any further payment on my part would amount to an overpayment--an error in God's accounting. This is unthinkable!
Christ's death on the cross paid the penalty for my sin in full! To His mercy I owe everything! To His grace I owe everything! To His love I owe everything! But to His justice... I owe NOTHING--because Jesus paid it all!
The Promised Deliverance of the Church
"For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). This world has an appointment with judgment. That is the "Day of the Lord." But the church--all the redeemed-- have an appointment with deliverance from the day of wrath.
The Person Who Must Be Removed
2 Thessalonians 2:5-12 talks about the coming of the antichrist. But before the antichrist can be revealed the "one now restraining" must be removed. Who is this restraining person? He is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must be removed from this world before the antichrist can come. And where is the Holy Spirit? He is inside the hearts of every Believer. Therefore, the only way to get the Holy Spirit out of this world is to get all the Christians out of this world. How will that be accomplished? The Rapture!
The Hope of the Believer
What do our hearts long for? Is it to see the antichrist, the false prophet, and the bowls of wrath poured out on this earth? No! It is the Parousia--the sudden appearance and presence of Jesus! The cry of our hearts is, "Maranatha--Come Lord Jesus!" Titus 2:13 says this: "while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." As the old preacher said, "I'm not looking for the undertaker; I'm looking for the Upper-Taker!" We are looking for Jesus!
The purpose of prophecy is not to give us something to argue about. It is to give us something to encourage one another with! So, cheer up my brother! Do not fear, my sister! Jesus is coming soon!