Sunday Sermon: ‘What Will Happen to the Church During the Tribulation?’

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I’m sure that by now most of you have seen the video clip of the runner who started celebrating before he crossed the finish line. If not, let me explain what happened.

Recently a runner by the name of Ben Payne was racing in a 10 K event in Atlanta. With only a few feet to the finish line, Payne assumed that he had won the race and rose his finger in victory and that he was #1. But then something terrible happened. Another runner by the name of Scott Overall dashed by him and Payne crossed the finish line in second place with egg on his face. I’m sure that’s one moment Ben Payne will never forget. I’m also sure that he learned a very important lesson that day. Stay faithful until you finish.

That’s a very important lesson for each of us to learn. The Bible says – “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) One of the essential ingredients to success is faithfulness to the end.

This morning I want us to consider the importance of being faithful and to emphasize this point I direct our attention to an event that will occur at the end of the Tribulation Period.

Revelation 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 

The Bible teaches us that at the very end of the Tribulation Period, Jesus is going to return from heaven and defeat the Antichrist and armies of the world. Many of you know this is called the Battle of Armageddon. Lord willing, during next week’s message we will focus on this battle and the events that lead up to it . But for today, let me direct your attention to the next verse in this passage:

Revelation 19:14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 

When Christ returns to this earth at the end of the Tribulation, He will be accompanied by a great army dressed in white. Who is this heavenly army? Is it angels? Is it someone else? We read from the book of Jude  –

Jude 1:14 Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints…

This heavenly army is not angels, but rather the saints of God. This army dressed in white will be made up of Christians, or even more specifically – the church.

Revelation 19:6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

I. Where Will the Church Be During the Tribulation?

Often I am asked if the church will have to go through the Tribulation? Some think that we will. Some think that we will only go through the first half. Still there are others who think that the most faithful Christians won’t and the less faithful will. I believe that the church will not be on earth during the Tribulation. Why do I believe this?

There are several reasons why I believe the church will be absent during the Tribulation. For one thing, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that through Christ, we have been delivered from the wrath that is to come. Paul also tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 that God has not appointed us to experience His divine wrath.

Secondly, there is no mention of the church in Revelation chapters 6 through 18. Why is that important? It is those chapters that give us many of the details of the Tribulation. Yet not once is the church mentioned.

Thirdly, Peter tells us 2 Peter 2:9 that God knows how to deliver the godly from trouble while reserving the ungodly for the day of judgment. And to help illustrate this point Peter points to Noah and Lot. The question we should ask is – When was Noah delivered from the flood? During, after or before? Obviously before the flood began. When was Lot delivered from the destruction of Sodom? During, after or before? He was delivered before the fire began to fall. Therefore what can we conclude? The church will be delivered before the Tribulation begins.

Fourthly, consider what we read from the book of Revelation ‘before’ the Tribulation period begins.

Revelation 4:9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

As many of you know, God has promised various crowns and rewards to those who serve Him faithfully. At one point those who have received these crowns will cast the before the throne of God and give Him glory. When will they do this? They do so ‘before’ the Tribulation begins indicating that the church must already be in heaven.

Fifthly, the church will be returning ‘with’ Christ at the end of the Tribulation period, indicating that the church must already be in heaven. Some say that Christ will rapture the church out just a few moments before He begins to execute His judgment upon the Antichrist and his armies; however, we read from scripture –

Revelation 19:14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him…

This army has already been in heaven. The Bible says specifically refers to them as the armies ‘which were in heaven.’

II. What Will the Church be Doing During the Tribulation?

Again let us take our answer from God’s Word.

Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

What can we learn about what will happen to us while we are in heaven?

A. Clothed in White Linen

The Bible says that the church will be clothed in white linen which symbolizes two things:

1. A Symbol of Their Salvation

Spiritually speaking we are clothed in white linen the moment we receive Christ as our Savior.

Isaiah 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. NIV

Many of you are familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son. A man had two sons and one day the youngest son decided that he wanted to go out and see the world and so he demanded from his father his portion of the inheritance.Not long after he went out on his own, his inheritance was gone. He wasted all of it with wild living.

Eventually he found himself in a pigpen, eating the slop. It’s not hard to imagine what kind of physical shape this boy must have been in. He was dirty, smelly and nearly-starved. As he began to think about how far he had fallen he said-

How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:17-19 ESV) 

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24 ESV)

The son expected his father to scold him, but instead his father embraced him and clothed him with one of his own garments. Some say that it was the best garment in the father’s closet.

That’s grace my friend. The Bible says that it is by God’s grace that we are saved and not by anything that we have done ourselves. The father clothing his wayward son in one of his best robes is a symbol of what it means to be saved. Through our faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, God is able to clothe us in a robe of His perfect righteousness.

Consider another important parable told by Jesus.A king prepared a wedding feast for his son, but no one came. This angered the king and so he commanded his servants to go out in the highways and invite whoever they saw. The Bible then says –

Matthew 22:11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ESV

2. A Symbol of Their Service

This army’s white linen is a symbol of their salvation; but it’s also a symbol of their service.

Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

In heaven there are going are going to be two important questions:

1) Are you clothed in Christ’s robe of righteousness?

2) What have you done with your salvation?

Every true born-again believer understands the importance of the first question. We all understand that we’re not going to be in heaven unless we have been covered by the blood of Christ. However, unfortunately we sometimes forget the importance of the second question. Too often we’re like the runner who began celebrating his victory before he crossed the finish line.

Look once again at our passage-

Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

Notice first of all that scripture says that the bride has ‘made herself ready.’ What does this mean? Has she earned her way to heaven? This is not about doing something ‘for’ our salvation, but rather doing something ‘with’ our salvation.

Down through the years I have performed many weddings. Although each wedding is unique and different, they all have at least one thing in common. In every wedding the bride has wanted to be as  beautiful as possible. I’ve learned to take the time to watch the faces of the bride and groom as she makes her grand appearance. I see on her face the question – “Am I beautiful?” And I see on his face the answer – “Wow!”

Scripture is not saying that the bride has worked to earn her salvation, but rather she has done all she could to make herself beautiful so as to express to Christ her love and devotion.

The Bible says that the fine linen is the righteousness, or more literally ‘the righteous acts’ of the saints. Christ provides for us the wedding garment and we adorn the garment by the way we live out our Christian life. We either bring glory to the name of Christ by the way we live, or bring it shame. Am I biblical in saying this? Can a Christian actually ‘adorn’ their salvation by their good works? Consider what Paul wrote about slaves.

Titus 2:10 Slaves are to be submissive to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back or stealing, but demonstrating utter faithfulness, so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in everything. HCSB

We can’t add anything to our salvation. It’s not God does His part and then we must do our part. The Bible says that salvation is of the Lord. It’s 100% the grace of God. How then can we ‘adorn’ the teachings about God our Savior? By the way we live out our salvation. As the old saying goes – The Best Advertisement is a Satisfied Customer.

B. Rewarded at the Bema Seat of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

This doesn’t mean that we will stand before Christ in order to be judged whether or not we are worthy to be in heaven. We will be in heaven only because we have been clothed in the wedding garment. What this means is that as His followers will stand before Christ in order to determine whether or not we invested in our lives in serving Him, or in serving self.

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Jesus Christ is the foundation of our relationship with God. “No other foundation can no man lay than that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” But how we live our lives after our salvation is the building we build upon that foundation.

Paul tells us that men build their lives with two different types of material. Some use “gold, silver, and precious stones” while others use “wood, hay, and stubble.” What happens to wood, hay and stubble when it is exposed to fire? It burns up. What happens to gold, silver and precious stones? Not only does it remain, but often it becomes even purer.

Paul says that those whose works are burned up will be saved – yet so as by fire. Or to put it in modern terminology – By the skin of their teeth. But those who works will remain will receive a reward.

1. What Kind of Rewards Will We Receive?

What kind of rewards will faithful saints receive in heaven? The Bible speaks of various crowns that will be given in heaven. The Bible also speaks of works of praise and commendation. “Well done thou good and faithful servant” Jesus will say to some of His servants. The Bible also tells us that those who are faithful over a few things here on earth will be rewarded by being made ruler over many things in heaven. .

2. Why Will These Rewards Matter?

Sometimes people ask, “Who cares whether or not I get a reward in heaven? Just being in heaven will be enough for me.”

First of all we need to realize that how we will spend eternity in heaven will be affected by how we live out our Christian life here on earth. Jesus said that the Master will say to His servants – “thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.”

In addition, the rewards are just about us. Our rewards will be a part of our worship in heaven.

Revelation 4:10 …cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

The returning of the rewards back to our Savior will be one of the primary ways we will worship Him. How is casting our crowns at His feet a part of our worship? Paul wrote –

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

When saints cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus they will in essence be saying – “You are the one who gave me the strength to do what I did, therefore You are the one who deserves the glory.”

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