As I was reading Amos in my quest to write about more verses I don’t often study, some verses about the Day of the Lord caught my eye. It got me thinking about two doctrines I’ve encountered related to what the church will be doing during the great tribulation that precedes Christ’s second coming.
One doctrine, the one taught in the churches where I grew up, says that some believers will be taken to a “place of safety” where God keeps them from the tribulation. The other, taught in most Evangelical and some Messianic churches, says that a “rapture” occurs where Christ catches believers up to heaven before the tribulation starts.
Both these ideas acknowledge that Jesus is coming back in the future to set up His kingdom on earth, and there will be great tribulation throughout the earth before that happens. Rapture doctrine (at least, the pre-trib version) teaches that He will come back twice — once to gather up believers pre-tribulation and once again to set up His millennial reign. The Place of Safety doctrine teaches that some, not all, believers will be taken to a physical place of safety on earth to wait-out the tribulation until Christ’s return. Today, I want to re-think the idea that believers are going to get-out of the tribulation, and what that might mean for our faith.
A Day of Darkness
If you believe that those who are faithful to God are taken out of the world before the great tribulation starts, then praying “thy kingdom come” is easy. We’ll get out of the worst of it and bypass all this judgement stuff so we can finally get to that reward we’ve been promised. But what if it doesn’t work out that way?
What if Revelation 12:13-17 really does mean the church will be taken to a safe place, but you’re part of the commandment-keeping remnant still in the earth and persecuted by the dragon? What if there is a rapture, but it’s mid- or post-tribulation instead of pre-trib?
Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him! Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20)
There’s a note on this passage in my study Bible that says, “The people were taking for granted that the ‘Day of the Lord’ would be their day of triumph. Amos reminded them, however, that because of their unbelief and wickedness, it would be a day of judgement for them as well as the other nations.”
This made me think of us in the church, hoping for the end of the world because we know it has to come before Christ’s return, while thinking we might get out of the accompanying tribulation. Well, maybe we will, but I wouldn’t count on it. Matthew 24 clearly states Christ “will gather together His elect” “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-31). We have to be ready to stay faithful to God even if we go through the worst tribulation mankind has ever faced. If our faith is contingent upon being raptured away or taken to a place of safety, we could be in trouble.
Our Safe Place
I know this sounds bleak, but one thing we do know is that God’s people will suffer because our Messiah suffered (1 Pet. 2:18-25). If we really are living in the last days (as so many people think) and that includes having to go through the tribulation, I pray we’ll be those who can say “Thy will be done” rather than those who turn away because they were expecting something else.
I recently read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She was a Christian working with the Dutch underground in World War II who was caught and sent to several German concentration camps. At first, I thought the title refered to the secret room where she and her family hid Jews, but I soon found out she meant something else.
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word. (Ps. 119:114)
Corrie quotes this verse near the beginning of the book, and again near the end. Her sister just died, she’s trapped in the medical ward waiting for release from the third camp she’s been held in, and she writes this: “His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.” We don’t need to go anywhere for God to keep us safe. We just need to stay in His will. Our safety doesn’t depend on anything other than our relationship with Him.
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2)
The New Living Translation has “place of safety” here instead of “fortress.” Reading on in this Psalm, we read of people living with “terror by night” and arrows by day (verse 5) in a place where pestilence and destruction are rampant (verse 6), and people fall dead all around you (verse 7). That’s not a physically safe location, but it doesn’t matter when you are dwelling in God.
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 (Ps. 91:9-10)
We’ve all known Christians who’ve suffered — and we’ve probably been a suffering Christian. Clearly, this isn’t a promise for complete physical protection for every follower of God. It is a promise, though, that God won’t let anything happen to us that can’t work out for good (Rom. 8:28).
We have to constantly work on developing a close relationship with God, and learning to follow Him the way He commands. That’s what’s important — not trying to figure out when He’s returning or if we’ll be raptured or where the place of safety might be. God is our focus, and if we keep our eyes on Him He will work things out.
Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt 24:42-44)
If we knew exactly when and how God’s plan would unfold, there’d be little need for trust or faith as the “evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We could have everything planned out and controlled and feel assured in our own efforts. but that’s not what God wants. He wants to see what we’ll do when we have to rely on Him completely.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:45-51)
There has been far too much smiting of fellow servants in the churches by people who don’t live like they could find themselves face-to-face with Jesus at any moment. We can’t let our faith slip because we think we have time or that we’ll get a warning. I’ve lost far too many friends to sudden, unexpected causes of death to think there are guarantees in this life.
God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort. He does promise He’ll never leave us and that, if we stay faithful, we will triumph with His son at the end. He doesn’t give us all the answers, but He gives us the only one we need. Grow closer to Him, stay vigilant, and trust Him as your place of safety.