God’s Churches and the Great Tribulation


God’s Churches and the Great Tribulation

November 19th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Revelation 4:1

11-19-61    10:50 a.m.


On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled God’s Churches and the Great Tribulation.  In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the last and the climatic book, the Apocalypse.  And in our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to the fourth chapter, which is the beginning of an altogether new departure.  And the sermon this morning is the conclusion, the last half of the sermon of last Sunday morning.

Beginning at the fourth chapter of the Revelation, after chapters 4 and 5, which are introductory to this third section, there is depicted the awesome and awful and indescribable judgments of God upon this unbelieving and blaspheming world [Revelation 6:1-19:21].  It is called in Matthew 24:21, and in Revelation 7:14 hē thlipsis hē megalē, “the tribulation, the great.”

“In the world ye shall have tribulation” [John 16:33], said Christ.  But the trials and the sorrows that we know in this life are not even comparable, not even the beginning to be mentioned in the same breath, with this era, this period of time that shall precede the ultimate climatic consummation of history.  There is coming, says the Lord God, there is coming a time of infinite trial and judgment upon this world.  And practically all of the Book of the Revelation is concerned with that final denouement, that great end period of unprecedented sorrow and tribulation.

Now, the question arises, “Shall we go through it?”  Will the people of God be in it?  Or does God take us away before that time of indescribable judgment, and trial is poured out in wrath and fury upon this earth?  Now, it is the thesis and it is the persuasion of your pastor that God’s churches will not go through that awful, awesome, indescribable trial and time of sorrow and judgment.  And the reason for it is to be found in these four propositions by which I have summarized the best I know how the teaching of the Word of God.

The first one is this: God’s people, God’s churches will not go through that period of tribulation because the structural outline of the Book of the Apocalypse forbids it.  God gives His own outline of the Revelation in the first chapter and the nineteenth verse.  He commanded John, “Write the things which thou hast seen” [Revelation 1:19], and John wrote them down: the vision of the incomparable risen, glorified Lord [Revelation 1:9-18].

Second, “and write the things which are” [Revelation 1:19].  “The things which are” are His churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22].  Just like now, “the things that are” are the churches that pertain and belong to Jesus.  Here is a church, yonder is one, there is one.  It was just like this in the days of John the seer; there was a church at Ephesus [Revelation 2:1-7], one at Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11].  There was one at Pergamos [Revelation 2:12-17], and another at Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29].  There was one at Sardis [Revelation 3:1-6] and one at Philadelphia [Revelation 3:7-13]; there was one at Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22].  So he wrote down the things which are, and you find that in the second and the third chapters of the book [Revelation 2:1-3:22].

Then God said the third, “And write the things which shall be meta tauta.”  “Write the things that shall be after these things,” after the things of the churches [Revelation 1:19].  So when I come to the fourth chapter of the Apocalypse, I read, “After this I looked…a door… a voice saying, ‘Come up hither, and I will show thee things which shall be meta tauta,’’” after the things of the churches [Revelation 4:1].  John faithfully followed that outline.

So when I come to the end of chapter 3, I come to the end of the churches.  There are no more churches.  Heretofore the church of our Lord has been in the center of the stage, and the messages that Christ has delivered have been to His people.  But at the end of the churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22], the church is never mentioned again.  It is never referred to.  It is not seen in this earth.  And the next time the church appears is in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation when the Lord comes at the end of the battle of Armageddon in glory and in triumph, and His church, His bride appears with Him [Revelation 19:5-6, 14]. 

How did she get up there?  Because at the end of chapter 3 and before the awful day and trial of the tribulation [Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14], God raptured, the old English word for took away, God took away His people from the earth and took her unto Himself [Revelation 4:1].  And then, the great judgment and wrath of the Almighty fell upon this world [Revelation 6:1-19:21].  Now that structural outline that you find in the Revelation [Revelation 1:19], is the structural outline you will find in all of the Word of God, for the Scriptures say that His people will not face the judgment [1 Thessalonians 5:4, 9].  God’s people are delivered from the wrath and the fury of the judgment of God.  The only judgment that the churches, that God’s people, shall ever know is the judgment of rewards. Second Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all stand at the judgment seat of Christ: that each one of us may receive the things that [are done] in the body, whether good or bad.”

But the great judgment and the wrath of God upon blasphemy, and sin, and iniquity, and an unbelieving world, all of that has been assumed and carried for us by our Savior on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:9].  And the judgment that should have fallen upon us, fell upon Him [Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:8].  And to those who receive our Lord, the judgment day is past!  And nothing waits for us but to appear before our Savior to receive the reward of the good of our life [2 Corinthians 5:10].  And that is in keeping with all of the Scriptures.  Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation, no judgment, to them who are in Christ Jesus.”

In John 5:24:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, shall have everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, shall not come into condemnation, into the wrath and fury and tribulation of God; but is passed out of death unto life.


In the fifth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul is talking about the great and dreadful day of the Lord, which includes this tribulation.  And as he speaks to that Day of the Lord, he says to us, “But we are not appointed unto that wrath and judgment of God, but to obtain salvation from it by Jesus Christ our Lord” [1 Thessalonians 5:9].  Or as the Lord said in Revelation 3:10, “Because thou hast kept My word, I also will keep thee from the great hour of trial that shall come upon the whole world.”

So as we follow the structural outline of the Revelation [Revelation 1:19], we find the church taken away before that awful day of the wrath and visitation and fury of God [Revelation 4:1].  And what we find in the Revelation, we find in all of the structural outline of the Holy Scriptures.  God’s people are delivered from it.  The judgment, the wrath, the fury, the tribulation, the awesome vials and trumpets and seals wherein God pours out His judgment upon this world [Revelation 6:1-16:21], that is not for God’s people.  They are taken away before it [1 Thessalonians 5:4].

Now, the second reason why it seems to me the churches of Christ, God’s people, will not go through that awesome terrible, indescribable tribulation is found in the exposition of the apostle Paul concerning it.

The church at Thessalonica, the children of God, the Christians at Thessalonica were in great sorrow.  They were in trial.  They were in persecution [1 Thessalonians 2:14-15].  And they thought that they were in that great day of the Lord—that the tribulation had come and they were in it [1 Thessalonians 2:2].  And they could not understand, for Paul had taught them that the churches, God’s children, would not go through the tribulation [1 Thessalonians 5:4, 9; 2 Thessalonians 2:5].  But they were in it they thought, the awful persecution they were enduring.  So they asked Paul about it.  And in the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians Paul has an exposition on that great day of the Lord.  In the second verse in my King James Version it’s called “the day of Christ” [1 Thessalonians 2:2].  But these manuscripts that follow the text earlier and exactly say “the day of the Lord.”  And the day of the Lord is that great final time of the judgment and wrath of the Almighty that we call the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14].

Now Paul says to these Christians who are suffering, “Don’t you be shaken in your mind or be deceived or troubled, as that the day of the Lord, that day of trial is already come and you are in it” [2 Thessalonians 2:1-2].  For, he says:

That Day will not come, except first there be a taking away, and the man of sin be revealed, that son of damnation and perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped . . .

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only the One that restrains and prevents now restrains and prevents, until He be taken out of the way.

But when He shall be taken out of the way—

the Restrainer, the Preventer—

Then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His parousia, with His presence, with His appearing, with His coming.

Him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness…

[2 Thessalonians 2:3-10]


On and on he describes that man of sin, that son of perdition called the ultimate and final Antichrist.

Paul says that the mystery of iniquity has been working for these hundreds of years.  But he says that great, final, energized kingdom of Satan and that ultimate and final devil incarnate, the Antichrist, the man of sin, that he will not be revealed, and he is revealed at the beginning of this great tribulation, this day of the Lord.  He will not be revealed until the Restrainer is taken out of the way.  “The mystery of iniquity doth work now: only He that letteth, He that restraineth, restrains until He be taken out of the way” [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. 

There is not even an archangel in heaven that stands face to face to rebuke Satan.  Michael, the archangel dared not rebuke Satan, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee” [Jude 1:9].  There is no one that can restrain the ultimate power of Satan but deity, the Holy Spirit of God who is in this world [1 Thessalonians 2:6-7] , who is in this church [1 Corinthians 3:16], who is in God’s people, who is in the hearts of the believing Christians [1 Corinthians 6:19].

And Paul says that there is coming a time when that Restrainer, God’s Holy Spirit in God’s people [1 Corinthians 6:19], when that Restrainer will be taken out of the way [2 Thessalonians 2:7].  And when that Restrainer, the Holy Spirit of God in God’s people, when He is taken out of the way, “Then shall that wicked one be revealed [2 Thessalonians 2:8], that man of sin, that son of perdition or damnation, who exalted himself above all that is called God” [2 Thessalonians 2:3-4], who deceives the world.  And God allows it because they believe a lie and had pleasure in it [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12].  That is the beginning of the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21], when there is revealed on the world scene this ultimate Antichrist, this man of sin, this Satan incarnate [2 Thessalonians 2:3, Revelation 13:1].

Now just briefly to sum up the remainder of the Scriptures, they will reveal to us as we shall follow them that this man of sin, this ultimate Antichrist, appears on the world scene as a man of peace, and as a man unifying all of the diversities and divergences that divide our nations and our people.  He is going to appear as the great deliverer [Revelation 13:5].

And for seven years will he reign [Daniel 9:27].  And at the end of the first half of it, at the end of three-and-a-half years, it is going to appear that he is a deceiver and an imposter [Daniel 9:27].  And the great tribulation is the last one-half of that seven-year period [Daniel 9:27].

And you are going to meet it again and again in the Word of God.  It is called three-and-one-half years.  It is called a time, times, and half a time [Daniel 7:25, Revelation 12:14].  It is called time, times, and a dividing of time [Daniel 7:25].  It is called the forty-two months [Revelation 11:2, 13:5].  It is called the one thousand two hundred sixty days [Revelation 11:3, 12:6].  You are going to meet it again and again.

This is the Antichrist, and when he appears on the world scene and Satan has him all groomed and prepared [Revelation 13:1], God’s people will be taken away [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. And that Antichrist cannot be revealed, will not be revealed, until first the Holy Spirit of God in God’s people [1 Corinthians 6:19] is taken away [2 Thessalonians 2:7].  And then shall that Antichrist appear [2 Thessalonians 2:8]. 

I think in every generation Satan has his antichrist prepared.  And we will never get beyond one that is a candidate for that awesome and awful place.  When you get rid of a Kaiser Bill, you’ve got a Hitler.  When you get rid of a Hitler, you’ve got a Stalin.  And when you get rid of a Stalin, you’ve got a Khrushchev.  And when you get rid of a Khrushchev, you’ve got another one coming on the stage of history, until finally the kingdom of darkness, driving hard, has its ultimate and final world tyrant prepared [Revelation 13:1].

And when that final denouement comes, God will take His people out of the world [2 Thessalonians 2:7], and the Holy Spirit among God’s children will be removed from the earth [1 Corinthians 6:19].  And when that comes, then unrestrained you will see the riding of the powers of the kingdom of darkness under Satan in this earth [2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 8].  And then will come to pass those days of trial and trouble and sorrow and tribulation such as the world has never seen [Matthew 24:21]. 

That Antichrist organizes the nations of the world into the great last battle campaign that ends in the war of Armageddon [Revelation 17:12-14].  And one-third of all of the people of the earth are destroyed [Revelation 9:18].  And all of them would be destroyed were it not for the intervention of Christ who comes in the midst of the battle of Armageddon with His victorious saints [Matthew 24:22, Revelation 19:11-21]. 

And the intervention of Christ in history saved this world [John 3:16-17].  And the only thing that saves it now, that restrains it now, is the presence of God’s people in it [2 Thessalonians 2:6-7].  The reason the foundations of the world still stand and the reason this world is not destroyed is because of the presence in it of God’s people [Matthew 24:22].

But there is coming a time, says the apostle Paul, when this restraining of the presence of the people of God and the Spirit of God in their souls will be taken away [2 Thessalonians 2:7].  And then shall those awful, awesome, indescribably horrible days of judgment and of the fury of God fall upon this earth [2 Thessalonians 2:3-12].

Now the third reason why I do not think that God’s people, God’s churches, will go through this terrible tribulation is because of the types, the illustrations that are used in the Word of God.  And of the many, I choose one.  Our Savior said in Luke 17, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the appearing of the coming of the Son of Man” [Luke 17:26].  And then again, “As it was in the days of Lot, even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” [Luke 17:28-30].

Now, when the Lord destroyed this world in the judgment day of the Flood, first Enoch was raptured before it [Genesis 5:24], Noah was saved through it, and the unbelieving wicked people were destroyed in it [Genesis 7:23]—which would be as the Lord uses it here, “As it was” [Luke 17:26, 28]—the type of it, the figure of it, the simile of it, the picture of it: God’s people taken out of the world before the judgment comes, the remnant saved in it [2 Peter 2:5-10].

For you are going to find out as we study the Revelation that there are uncounted thousands of people who turn to the Lord in the midst of those awful trials and visitations—Noah, who was saved through it [Genesis 7:23, 1 Peter 3:20].  And then the unbelieving, the blaspheming, the wicked who were destroyed in it [Genesis 7:23].  So, the type of the picture is that God’s people are taken out before it [2 Peter 2:5, 7], and the remnant are saved through it [2 Peter 2:5-10].

Now, the second illustration the Lord uses, “As it was in the days of Lot” [Luke 17:28]; Lot was a compromised, carnal Christian.  The Book says that he vexed his soul with the filthy living of the Sodomites [2 Peter 2:7], but Lot was a child of God.  And when the angel said, “Escape!” Lot demurred.  And the angel took hold on him and snatched him out before the fire and the brimstone fell upon Sodom [Genesis 19:15-16], “for,” said the angel, “I can do nothing until thou be come thither” [Genesis 19:22].  As long as Lot was in Sodom, the judgment could not fall.  The fire could not fall.  “First,” said the angel, “I must take thee out.  I can do nothing until thou be come thither” [Genesis 19:22].

So it is with the people of God in this world.  That great final judgment will not come, and the fire and the fury and the wrath of the Almighty will not fall upon this world until first God’s people be taken out of it [2 Peter 2:9].

Now both of those men, Enoch and Lot, are very typical of God’s people in this earth now.  Enoch—glorious man who walked with God: and was not, for God took him—Enoch was raptured, he was taken out before the judgment of the Flood came [Genesis 7:17-24].

Lot, carnal, compromised Christian, vexing his soul with all of the filthy life of the Sodomites [2 Peter 2:7-9], Lot was taken out also before the great judgment day of God came [Genesis 19:22-29].

Glorious Enoch translated, taken out in the fullness of his spiritual life [Genesis 5:24]; Lot, compromised and worldly in the midst of Sodom, yet also taken out before the judgment of God came [Genesis 19:22].  It is thus before the great day of the tribulation and the visitation finally of the wrath of God. All of God’s people—even the worldly ones—those who have placed their trust in Him, they all will be taken out before that awful day comes [1 Thessalonians 1:10].

That is why I had you read in this passage lead by our assistant pastor, Brother Melvin Carter, the passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, “We shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” [1 Corinthians 3:13-14].  Second Corinthians 5:10, “To receive the things done in the flesh.”  And those of us who have built with gold and silver and precious stones [1 Corinthians 3:12], when that day of trial shall come, our work shall stand, and we shall receive a reward.  But those of us who have built this life out of wood and hay and stubble, it all will be burned, yet we ourselves will be saved; yet so as by fire, just by the skin of our teeth [1 Corinthians 3:12-15].  That is why our good deacon said, “I can send my treasures and my inheritance ahead of me”—gold and silver and precious stone.

That’s the work!  That’s the stewardship.  That’s the godliness of the child of the Lord.  We’re all going to be saved; some of us just barely, like a man running out of his house naked with nothing [1 Corinthians 3:15].  And some of us are going to have a rich and glorious inheritance in the Lord [1 Corinthians 2:9].  But all of us are going to be saved, raptured, taken away [1 Thessalonians 5:4], before that great and awful visitation of the judgment of God that is called in the Bible thlipsis hē megalē, the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21].

Now, the fourth reason: the first reason was the structural outline of the Apocalypse, how God made it and how it conforms to the structural outline of all of the Scriptures [Revelation 1:19].  The second reason was the exposition of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 that before the man of sin is revealed, first God’s people—the Holy Spirit in their hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19]—God’s people must be taken away [2 Thessalonians 2:3-10].  The great Restrainer in this world must be taken away [2 Thessalonians 2:7].  The third reason is that the types and the figures and the comparisons and the similes and the examples in the Scriptures all portray that same truth that God’s people—an Enoch, a Lot—must be taken away first before God’s judgment falls [Luke 17:26-30].  Now, the fourth and the last reason is this: what is the hope and the comfort to the Christian as the Bible speaks to his soul?  What are we to look for, and to wait for, and to yearn for, and to hope for?  What are we to look forward to?

Well, there are some who are looking for the man of sin and the child of damnation and the great ultimate Antichrist.  There are others who are looking for the beast and the false prophet.  There are others who are looking for the great and final battle of Armageddon.  There are others who are looking for the days of trial and tribulation.

But you will never in one instance find that in the Word of God.  In the Word of God, in the Holy Scriptures, there is only one thing that you will find the Christian is asked to wait for, and to yearn for, and to pray for, and to look for.  And a typical instance of it is Paul’s writing in Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”  That’s what the Christian is looking for.  We’re not looking for the tribulation.  We’re not looking for the man of damnation.  We’re not looking for the battle of Armageddon.  We’re not waiting for the beast and the false prophet, and the Antichrist, and all of the fury of the judgments of God.  God’s people are looking for their Lord. And anybody that interposes anything between the coming of the Lord and the fulfillment of that promise is denying and turning aside from the clear teaching of the Holy Book.  He may come any day, any hour, any moment.  He may come at noonday.  He may come at twilight.  It may be at midnight.  It may be at the dawn of the morrow.

There is no program, there are no years, there is no tribulation, there is no battle, there’s no anything that a man can think of that could intervene between the coming of our Lord and the fulfilling of His promise, any day, any moment, for we are commanded of the Lord to live in the imminency of the return of our Savior [Mark 13:35].  The apostles lived in the imminency of the coming of Christ, and we are commanded to live in that same imminency [Titus 2:13].  He will come, without a sign, for us.  His coming will not be announced, as a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2] to steal away His jewels [Matthew 13:44], the pearl of price [Matthew 13:45-46] He purchased with His own blood [Acts 20:28]—His people in the earth [Matthew 13:46].  He will come suddenly, miraculously, noiselessly, silently, furtively, clandestinely [1 Thessalonians 5:4].  He will come to take His people away, just as He came for Enoch who was translated, just suddenly, miraculously, silently, and he was gone [Genesis 5:24].  So it is with the people of the Lord.  Any day, any hour, any moment, the Lord may call for His own.  And when He does and we are taken away [2 Thessalonians 2:3], that is the great signal for the beginning of that awful time of trial that the Book calls the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21].  So the comfort and the hope of God’s people is not for any of these tragic and awesome things.  But what God’s people are to look for, and to yearn for, and to hope for, and to expect, is the appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ [Titus 2:13].

The door of the Philadelphian age is closing, closing, closing, closing [Revelation 3:7-13].  To far more than half of the vast population of this world, we have no opportunity now to preach the gospel of the Son of God.  The door is closing.  It is closing.  It is closing.

In the Laodicean age, the door is closed and Christ is on the outside gleaning, knocking at the individual heart [Revelation 3:20], but when the door is closed in this world, the fourth chapter of the Revelation begins. “And a door is opened in heaven” [Revelation 4:1].  When it closes here [Revelation 3:14-22], it opens there [Revelation 4:1].

And in type and in symbol, John, a representative Christian, and in type and in symbol, when the door was opened in heaven, John heard the voice as of a trumpet saying, “Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1].  And John, in symbol and in type as a Christian, through that open door was raptured, was taken up with his Lord [Revelation 4:1-2].  And then follows those awful days of the visitation of the judgments of God [Revelation 6:1-20:15].

The Lord says we are ambassadors in this world, strangers and pilgrims in it [2 Corinthians 5:20; Hebrews 11:13].  Our home is in glory.  And before any nation declares war, first they bring their ambassadors home.  And it is thus when the judgments of God are visited on this evil unbelieving world, God calls His ambassador home.

And then those days of judgment begin, “Pray,” says the Savior, “that ye may be worthy to escape those days of trial and tribulation” [Luke 21:36].  This is the appeal of the Word of God to the individual soul, to those that love Him, that love His appearing, who in faith turn to Him.  To them, there’s no destiny but glory and salvation and deliverance [2 Timothy 4:8].

To those who turn aside and refuse the overtures of grace and of mercy, there’s no destiny and no future, but one of the wrath and of the judgment of Almighty God [John 3:36].  “Oh, turn ye, turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].  That’s the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, that we might turn and be saved [Acts 16:31, Ephesians 1:13], that we might look and live [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-17], that we might give to Jesus, our coming and reigning King, the love and adoration of our souls and our lives.

And that is our appeal to your heart this day.  While we sing our invitation song, in the throng in this balcony round, somebody you, somebody you, coming in faith to our Savior; there’s a stairway at the back, at the front and on either side, and time and aplenty to spare, make it now, make it now.  On this lower floor, the press of people in this audience, on the lower floor, a family to come, or one somebody you, while we sing the song and make the appeal, as the Spirit of God shall lead in the way, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.