No Trial Lasts Forever

Leslie Basham: Coming up Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth addresses a debate: Will the rapture take place before the Great Tribulation or not?

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I have researched this. I have read probably dozens of commentaries on both sides of this. I have thought long and hard about this. And I’m going to tell you what I believe. Are you ready?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Thursday, October 12, 2017.

Yesterday, we looked at one of the rewards promised to the first century church. They were told that their enemies would be subdued and that some would be converted. Today we explore more promises to this church as Nancy continues in the series "Encouragement to Persevere."

Nancy: Most you know the name Eric Liddell. He was the Scottish runner who represented Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The movie has made the story famous. Though I learned in looking this up that there are some details in the movie that aren’t quite accurate, but it’s a great story nonetheless.

When Eric Liddell learned that the qualifying heats for his best event, the 100 meters race, were to be held on a Sunday he withdrew from the race and ran instead in the 400 meters race, one that he had not trained as long for.

As he went to the starting blocks, an American trainer slipped a piece of paper in his hand that had on it a quotation from 1 Samuel chapter 2. It had this phrase: “Those who honor me, I will honor” (v. 30).

Eric Liddell ran with that piece of paper in his hand, and, as you know, not only won the race but broke the existing world record. Eric had honored the Lord and God honored him, gave him the strength to run a race that he had been expected to lose.

Well, as we turn back to the letter of Jesus to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus is going to say in essence to the church in Philadelphia that, “You have honored Me, and I will honor you.” Let’s look back at the text.

We’re in Revelation chapter 3 beginning in verse 8. Jesus says,

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Now, because they’ve been faithful with what they do have, the little power they do have, faithful to stay tethered to God’s Word, faithful to proclaim His name; now Jesus is going to promise them some rewards. And the one we looked at is that their opponents will be subdued and probably some of them converted. Verse 9:

Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not. [They’re not true spiritual Jews. They’re ethnically Jews, but spiritually they are not the true children of Abraham.] They lie. Behold, I will make these [that have opposed you] come and bow down before your feet [I will conquer their hearts] and they will learn that I have loved you.

That’s one way that God will honor His true people who have been faithful to honor Him.

And then as we come to verse 10, we see another reward, another way God is going to honor His people who have been faithful in difficult times. And this, I have discovered over the last days as I’ve been studying, is a passage that has stirred up no small amount of controversy. No small amount of ink has been spilled over what this verse means. I’m going to try in the next less than twenty minutes to tell you what I think it means. Verse 10:

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

So Jesus is saying, “Because you have kept my command to endure patiently, because you’ve been faithful in the midst of opposition and pressure and obstacles, now the promise of Christ is when you come to that day of great trial, I will keep you. You have kept your word; I will keep you.” He will keep those who have kept faith in Him.

Now this verse raises two important interpretive questions. First question is: What is meant by the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world? What is that referring to?

And then the second question is: What does Jesus mean when he says to the church in Philadelphia that He will keep them from that hour of trial? What is the hour of trial and what does it mean that He will keep His people from that hour of trial?

Bible scholars and theologians have been debating both these questions all throughout church history, and they’re still debating. I’ve read a lot of commentaries by wise and godly men who know God’s Word, who love and honor God’s Word.

I can tell you we’re probably not going to solve those differences today. But I want to give you a brief overview of what the positions are and then draw some conclusions that are true regardless of which position you take.

The hour of trial that is coming on the whole world—what is that? What does it refer to?

Some would say, and I grew up in an era where in the circles I was in most would have said that this refers to the Tribulation period at the end of the age. In fact, in the Gospels Jesus foretold a time of great tribulation that would take place before His second coming, and at His second coming He would establish His kingdom on earth.

But before that second coming, He talked about a period of great tribulation. That period is described in greater detail in Revelation chapters 6–19. If you’ve read those chapters in recent times, you remember that it’s an intensifying description of one judgment after another, cataclysmic judgments that God sends on the earth to judge the earth and to give people an opportunity to repent.

We read in those passages, those chapters, about the triumph of the anti-Christ. And for a while it looks like he’s winning. He is given power even over the saints of God in some points. We read about the "day of the Lord," that day of the great wrath of God that falls on unrepentant sinners.

The judgments start small and then they get bigger and they get bigger and then they snowball. By the time you get through chapter 19 and Babylon the Great, you have this humongous avalanche of judgment and tribulation that is coming upon the world.

Many scholars and commentators believe that this hour of trial that is coming on the whole world refers to what is called that Great Tribulation that takes place right before the return of Christ.

Others would say that what Jesus is talking about here is not necessarily limited to the Great Tribulation at the end of this present age. And the question they would raise, which I think is a good question, is, “If this was only talking about the Great Tribulation at the end of the age, what meaning and significance would this promise have had to those 1st century believers in Philadelphia who were not even going to be around then thousands of years later?”

This letter was written to comfort and encourage them. So these commentators would say Jesus must have been referring to some trial that was impending or that even had already begun. Remember, they were living in a period of Roman domination. Domitian was likely the emperor who just died, and there had been a lot of persecution in this era. Jesus may have been referring to a trial that had already begun that would affect the whole known world of that time.

So this hour of trial that is coming on the whole world may refer to an entire period of testing and suffering that affects God’s people from the 1st century when this was written all the way to the end of the age, a period that has already begun, a period that we’re living in. You can talk to believers around the world who are experiencing persecution for their faith today and find that they feel like they’re in tribulation, in a great tribulation. And some of them are. But this period will intensify the closer we get to the return of Christ.

Now Jesus says, “I’m going to keep you from this hour of trial that is coming,” either this hour of trial that is the Great Tribulation at the end of the age or this whole entire period from the first century until the end of the age when there will be intensifying tribulation.

And Jesus says to these believers, “I will keep you from that hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell on the earth.” Now what does that mean that He will keep us, that He will keep those believers from that hour of trial?

Some who have studied this passage believe that what Jesus is saying is that Christians will be spared from going through the Great Tribulation, the Tribulation at the end of the age. They believe that before that Tribulation takes place that Jesus will come back from heaven and rapture His Church, take them away from the earth so that they do not have to go through that ordeal.

So the sequence of events as they see it—and I grew up in an era where this is largely the system that was taught in the churches I grew up—was that there would be the rapture of the Church. Jesus comes in the cloud and takes the true believers to heaven; then the Great Tribulation; and then the Second Coming of Christ to establish His kingdom here on earth.

And again as I’ve said, where I grew up this is the verse that was largely used to support that position. “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world,” although there are certainly other verses that are used to support that position. That position is known as the Pre-Tribulational Rapture.

These people point out, and they are correct, that this hour of trial according to the verse we just read is coming on those who dwell on the earth. You say, “What is so significant about that?”

Well that’s a phrase—“those who dwell on the earth”—that is used approximately nine times in the book of Revelation. It always refers to unbelievers. It’s not just people who live on the earth; it’s people who are of this earth, people who are earthy, people who dwell on this earth. Their home is this earth. Their home is not heaven.

They are worshipers of the Beast. They are persecutors of God’s people. They are objects of God’s wrath. And so this verse says that this trial is coming to try those who dwell on the earth, these unbelievers, these persecutors, these worshipers of the Beast.

So some would say Christians cannot be here for that because they don’t fit that description. They would say when Jesus says, “I will keep you from that hour of trial that is coming on the whole world,” that what that means is that Jesus will provide escape, that Christians will not have to go through the Great Tribulation. They will be raptured to heaven before that point.

That may be what some of you believe this passage is saying. If you believe that, you stand in good company. There are a lot of great Bible scholars who hold to that position.

However, there are others who believe that what better fits this context and the whole of the New Testament is not that Jesus is promising to these believers or to us miraculous escape out of the hour of trial, but that instead He is promising His supernatural protection in the midst of the trial; that they will be kept in or through the time of temptation and trial; that He’s promising them spiritual protection in the midst of physical tribulation. That they will be delivered out of its power.

These were believers who had kept the Word of Christ. He was not telling them that He was sparing them from suffering, but He would uphold them when they went through whatever lay ahead. That He would sustain them by His power, and He would give them grace by which He would enable them to endure.

In fact, this phrase “kept from the hour of trial” is only used one other time in this exact form in the Greek New Testament. It’s found in John 17:15. It sheds a little bit of light, I think, on this passage.

Jesus prayed (this is Jesus’ great high priestly prayer in John 17), He said, “I do not ask,” praying for the believers, “that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them [there’s that phrase again] from the evil one.”

He saying, "I'm not asking that You would take them out of this world," someday that would happen. But at this moment they needed to live in this world. But while they are in this world, protect them from the spiritual assaults of the evil one.

So when Jesus prayed that we would be kept from the evil one that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be harassed by Satan, or that we would be taken somewhere to escape his wiles and deception. We will be harrassed by Satan. We are told that. We are warned to be careful about him. But the promise is that he will not overcome us; that we will be kept safe from the evil one even while we live in a world that has very much his influence.

There are a couple of verses from the Old Testament that came to mind as I was meditating on this promise where Jesus says to the church in Revelation, “You will be kept from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.”

Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” You have both there. You have the fact that we do go through tribulations. We do go through afflictions. But in the end, in the final analysis, in the ultimate sense, God delivers us out of them all.

It’s like those three Hebrew young men who were thrown into the fiery furnace. They went through the fire, but they came out unscathed. Maybe that's the sense in the promise Jesus gives His people. And you see that concept in Isaiah 43:2.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

So there are two positions here. One is that the Church will go through the Tribulation before Jesus returns or that other position that before the Tribulation, this Great Tribulation at the end of the age, Jesus will come back and rapture His Church or deliver us from that Tribulation.

Now how many of you would like to know what I believe, what my personal position is? The rest of you don’t care? I’ll just tell you this: I have studied the Scripture. I have researched this. I have read probably dozens of commentaries on both sides of this. I have thought long and hard about this. And I’m going to tell you what I believe. Are you ready?

The answer is, I don’t know. And in my opinion, and I know we’ll get some mail on this, but that’s okay. We like mail here at Revive Our Hearts. In my opinion, we don’t know and can’t know for sure. And we don’t have to know for sure.

Now I’m not saying that those commentators who stake out a position on this are wrong. I’ve been very helped by their input on this, and I’m glad they feel so confident. But I don’t think we have to be sure what is going to be the case.

In fact, I think if we needed to know for sure that God would have made this more clear in the Scripture. But there are some things we do know, and that’s what I’m going to focus on these final moments today. Regardless of whether believers will be on the earth during the Great Tribulation or will be raptured away from the earth before the Great Tribulation, there are some things that are still true regardless of the position you take. 

We know first that Jesus promised that there will be trials and tribulations between here and heaven. In other passages . . . Here He says I'll keep you from trial, but there are plenty of other passages, like the one I just read, "many are the afflictions of the righteous," where Jesus promised that there will be trials and tribulations, and Christians will not be exempt from those trials. There is no biblical basis to believe that Christians will escape trials, tribulations, and persecution. In fact, we’re told to expect them.

Jesus said to His disciples in John 16, “In the world you will have tribulation” (v. 33). That’s why you need to interpret Scripture in the light of the rest of Scripture.

In Acts 14 we read, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22). 

In Revelation 2, Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold the devil is about to throw some of you into prison that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death" that's martyrdom "and I will give you the crown of life."

So when Jesus said here to the church in Philadelphia, “I’m going to keep you from the hour of trial,” He is not saying that He is going to keep believers from tribulations and trials. He's say, in fact, you will have them, but if you are faithful to the finishline, there will be a reward on the other side that will make you look back and say, "It was worth it."

So first we know, regardless of whether we will be here in the Great Tribulation or not, there will be trials and tribulations.

By the way, I’ve just finished reading this week a book. I wish I could remember the name of it. But it’s the stories of eight women who have been persecuted for their faith, modern day women, most of them still living, but have been persecuted in unbelievable ways in other parts of the world. These are our sisters in Christ. We’re talking in recent years, some them still the situation is going on. They couldn’t tell what country the person is in for fear of what might be done.

We live in this little comfortable, protected cocoon here. But we need to be mindful there are those who feel that they are going through great tribulation right now. When we take the position that Christians aren’t going through great tribulation, they have to scratch their heads and wonder, “What do you know?”

But it’s amazing to see how God keeps them faithful and protects their hearts in the midst of that.

Well, we also know, regardless of which position you take about the Rapture and the Tribulation, that all trials are limited by God as to their extent, their intensity, and their duration. It’s called the hour of trial. It’s not an eternity of trial.

Now, you may feel that you are living in an eternity of trial, and those trials can take different forms. I look at my friend Rebecca here who’s had years of back issues, chronic pain for years and years. I can’t imagine that. But I can imagine that it starts to feel like eternity. It starts to feel like it’s never going to end.

Now, that’s not a trial for being a Christian. Non-Christians and Christians get back pain. But I’m saying whatever your pain—the relational pain, the issues that you have to deal with, the things that seem like they are never going away—remember, they are not forever. There is a limit and God determines the limit, the duration. He knows what you can bear. He knows what He will give you grace to bear. But none of those trials will last forever.

And we know that God uses trials to test and to sanctify His children. He uses them to purify us, to strengthen us. So those trials are not without purpose. They’re not random. They have purpose. In the midst of it you may not be able to see the purpose. You may not feel like any great sanctification is taking place in you. But God is doing a work in you. As gold is purified through prolonged exposure to heat, so your prolonged exposure to heat is doing something precious in you. It’s purifying. It’s bringing the gold out.

I just read this past week in my quiet time. I came to the book of Job and was in those early chapters. You know the story, but I was meditating on all the humongous losses and the excruciating pain, but knowing that God in heaven had divine purposes for allowing Satan to bring those afflictions into Job’s life. God uses these trials in our lives as His children.

He also uses these trials to judge and punish unbelievers. So we here on earth, as God is working His purposes in unbelievers, we are here participating in the work that God is doing to bring unbelievers to repentance and then ultimately to bring about His righteous judgment on those who refuse to repent.

We also know that God will give us grace and power to endure whatever the trials and for however long they may last. We know that we will be kept from the wrath and the judgment of God. If we are God’s children, there is no need for fear. For as 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 9).

So keep your eye on the finishline, even when you can't see it, it's there. Know that you will never be subject to the wrath and judgment of God if you have trusted in Christ as the payment for your sin.

Remember that God is glorified and Satan is defeated and we prove that we belong to Christ when we remain faithful through trials, even to the point of death. That’s what we read in Revelation 12. "They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (v. 11).

In the year 1720 a revival began in a town in Moravia, which is in the eastern part of what today is Czech Republic. The local religious establishment opposed that revival. They prohibited the meetings.

Those who insisted on assembling were seized. They were imprisoned in stables and cellars. At one house where 150 people had gathered to worship Christ, the police broke in and seized all the books they could find. They ultimately apprehended and jailed twenty heads of families.

But during that raid—I was so touched when I thought of this passage as I read this—that congregation began to sing the stanzas of Luther’s great hymn. They came to this one:

Though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.


"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"

"The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials," 2 Peter 2:9 tells us. In His time and in His way, He will. So hold on, be faithful, and know that in God’s way and in His time His truth will triumph through us. Thank you Lord, amen.

Leslie: I know women are hearing the voice of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth while facing all kinds of trials today. Nancy’s been passing on encouragement from Revelation chapter 3.

No matter what you’re going through, approaching it with a thankful attitude will have a huge effect on you and everyone around you. Nancy shows you how to develop this powerful attitude in her book, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. The ideas in this book will stay with you as you hit challenges. And in those moments you’ll remember to give thanks, stop complaining and choose the path of joy.

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you a copy of Choosing Gratitude. You can donate by calling 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

In the first century Jesus said, “I’m coming back soon.” Well that was over 2,000 years ago. Has Jesus failed to deliver on that promise? Be back tomorrow when Nancy addresses that question on Revive Our Hearts.

 Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you keep your focus in the midst of trials. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

 

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