PRETRIBULATIONISM: this doctrine believes that God's wrath is poured out during the Tribulation period and therefore the Church must be raptured before it comes because we are not destined for wrath.
POSTTRIBULATIONISM: this doctrine believes God's wrath is poured out immediately after the Tribulation and, therefore, saints in the Tribulation period will not experience that wrath. Saints in the Tribulation are persecuted under Satan's wrath and fury, so saints suffering God's wrath during the Tribulation is not a problem in this doctrine. That wrath is simply not there during the Tribulation period, but Satan's is (see Revelation chapters 12 and 13).
Having stated a simple explanation of the beliefs in both doctrines, we need to pinpoint when the wrath of God is poured out.
By placing God's wrath within the Tribulation period, pretribulationists have created a dilemma. The question raised because of their placement of God's wrath within the Tribulation is this: IF the Church is raptured before the Tribulation, and IF the wrath of God is poured out during it, how will these saints, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE, escape that wrath since no saint is destined for wrath? Bob Gundry's logic is excellent in seeking an answer to the problem of the Church being present in theTribulation:
"Pre- and posttribulationists agree that a host of saints, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles, will be present on earth during the tribulation. Therefore, whatever problem pretribulationists may turn up regarding the presence of the Church in a period of divine wrath are their own problems, too; for whether or not the tribulational saints belong to the Church or to another group of redeemed people, they also have escaped God's anger by virtue of the blood of Christ, who underwent their judegement on them (Rev. 7:14). Will Jewish or Gentile saints suffer God's wrath during the tribulation, according to pretribulationism? If not, neither would the Church have to suffer God's wrath in the tribulation. If so, arguments against the suffering of wrath by the Church apply equally to tribulational saints of other sorts" (The Church and the Tribulation, pp. 44-45).
According to the pretribulational doctrine, God's wrath begins during the Tribulation, but the Church (already raptured) won't experience that wrath. Then after the Tribulation, when it's safe, the Church will return with Christ in glory. But as Gundry points out, the problem of Christians escaping God's wrath is transferred back to pretribulationism when we consider the saints who are obviously present for the Tribulation.
What does the pretribulation doctrine do with those saved during the Tribulation? Or with the servants sealed during it? How do these saints escape the wrath of God? And if they don't, why couldn't we be preserved in the same way? What makes us the "elite" that would not go through the Tribulation? There doesn't seem to be a way out of this problem for the pretribulationist. Whether the Church is raptured beforehand or not, there are still saints in the Tribulation. Gundry gives some food for thought concerning the sheltering of these Tribulation saints:
"Or, if the tribulational saints will receive shelter within the period of divine wrath, may not the same hold true if Christians enter that period, i.e., if Christians turn out to BE the saints of the tribulation? 'Romans 8:1 assures us that there is no condemnation, or judgement, to them that are in Christ Jesus. . . Does it not also include deliverance from that time of judgement. . . . which is primarily characterized by the pouring out of the vials of God's wrath?' (Gerald B. Stanton, Kept From The Hour, p. 44). But would not tribulational saints not belonging to the Church nevertheless be in Christ? Would not His blood justify them (Rev. 7:14)? If not, how would they be saved? If so, why would they be in the tribulation, if the pretribulational line of reasoning is correct?" (The Church and the Tribulation, p. 45).
Even God's sheltering of Christians from His wrath during the Tribulation doesn't aid the pretribulationism dilemma.
We can deal with this confusion by asking ourselves, "Is this pretribulational objection to the Church's presence in the Tribulation a valid one?" We must answer that it is not. The answer must be somewhere else, namely in posttribulationism, which doesn't have this problem. The posttribulationist believes that the Church goes through the Tribulation and that God's wrath is poured out immedately afterwards. As Jesus is the One who brings the wrath (Revelation 6:15-17), we experience the fullness of our salvation when we are changed to be like Him, as the wrath comes or just prior to its falling. Posttribulationism does have an answer to this "wrath of God" dilemma, as God's wrath is not poured out until after the Tribulation.
We want to begin to look at the posttribulational view of the endtime wrath of God by quoting from our Pinpointing The Great And Terrible Day Of The Lord. In that piece on when the Day of the Lord arrives, we also mentioned God's endtime wrath that the believers won't experience. We said that the prophet Amos prophesied of Armageddon and celestial phenomena, placing the Day of the Lord after these events:
14: Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is NEAR in the valley of decision. 15: The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. (Joel 3)
18: Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light. 20: Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it? (Amos 5).
Zephaniah also mentioned the darkness of the day of the Lord, which complements the verses already discussed:
14: The great day of the LORD is near, it IS NEAR, and HASTETH GREATLY, even the voice of the day of the LORD: . . . 15: That day is a day of wrath, . . a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, . . . 18: Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land (Zeph. 1).
Zephaniah clearly states that the day of the Lord is "a day of wrath," but more precisely, "the day of the Lord's wrath." And Zephaniah again mentions that the Day of the Lord is a day of His wrath:
1: Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; 2: Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD's anger come upon you. (Zeph. 2).
1. The Day of the Lord does not arrive until after the celestial signs seen in the sun, the moon and the stars;
2. The Day of the Lord will be a Day of darkness;
3. The Day of the Lord is also called the Day of God's wrath.
Now let's look at the Day of His wrath in the New Testament. The same celestial signs are mentioned in Revelation 6:
12: And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13: And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14: And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15: And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16: And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Rev. 6).
This event occurs at the sixth seal, and all the signs in the heavens mentioned in these scriptures are the same as those mentioned in Matthew 24:21-33, placing the events of all these scriptures "Immediately after the tribulation of those days":
21: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. . . . 29: Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31: And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32: Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.(Matt. 24).
The tremendous celestial signs and wrath mentioned in Joel, Amos and Zephaniah complement Revelation 6:17, which says, "For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" This is synonymous with Joel 2:11 that describes that day: "for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?"
The earthly and celestial phenomena in both the Old and New Testament verses are the same and occur "BEFORE the great and the terrible day of the LORD come" (Joel 2:31). Both sets of Scripture describe the sun and the moon being darkened and turning to blood. They also mention like phenomena in the sky and in the stars. Also common to them is the Lord Jesus coming to reign, His wrath being unleashed at this time, and the effects in the earth itself. Unless we can come up with some valid reasons to believe these Old and New Testament descriptions have nothing to do with each other whatsoever, or that both sets do not speak of the Day of the Lord and the phenomena introducing it, then our verses plainly place the beginning of the day of the Lord immediately after the Tribulation at the time of Christ's second coming. This is the time when God's wrath is poured out as stated in Zephaniah 1 and 2, and Revelation 6:16. Since the Day of the Lord does not begin until after the Tribulation, neither can the wrath be poured out until then. These Scriptures clearly state that that is the time God's wrath is poured out. In his study, Gundry comments,
"But if the wrath has already fallen [during the Tribulation], how could the wicked be fleeing for refuge [in Revelation 6:15-17]. Rather, the wrath is at the inception of its breaking forth [after the sun and moon portents (vv. 12-14)]. . . . or on the verge of doing so . . . "has just arrived" or "is here" (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, Kept From The Hour, p. 44). The celestial phenomena under the sixth seal are those which Jesus said would occur immediately after the tribulation and just prior to His return (Matt. 24:29-30)" (Gundry, p. 76).
Plainly, it is impossible for God's end-time wrath to be poured out until the Tribulation has ended. The gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:31 and the wrath of the Lamb in Revelation 6:16 both occur after the posttribulational celestial signs. Although this does place the Church within touching distance of the wrath of God, that wrath will not affect the saints living at that time. Common sense would conclude that the celestial events described above can happen only once for those on earth. The only light in this seemingly gloomy picture is the sudden appearance of Jesus in the midst of the wrath He pours out when He comes, after the signs begin, in the power and glory of the Father, with the saints being gathered and the unbelievers fleeing from the wrath He is unleashing.
"8: But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9: For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ," (1 Thessalonians).
Here Paul contrasts the two, and the helmet of the hope of salvation is that which will protect us from God's wrath when it is poured out at the end. This is the glory of the Church's salvation that has been hid for so long through false teaching. Christ comes and gathers His Church to the clouds by raising the dead saints and catching the living saints up to Himself who are on earth at the end of the age. Immediately the wrath is released, but it won't hurt the saints. Why? Because our bodies will have been changed to be immortal:
20: For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.(Philippians 3).
The wrath He brings and in which He will stand to bring judgement on the world will not hurt Him, or us, for we will have been changed to be like Him! That's why the believer will not experience or suffer the wrath of God! The pretribulationists say they will return with Christ at this time, so they admit they will be in this scene at the end, and, therefore, in the midst of God's wrath. Both scenarios place us, the Church, in this scene, showing what they tried to avoid is where they end up anyway. This is the capstone of our salvation, and it is glorious. 1 Thessalonianns 1:10 states this same idea:
10: And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.