THE WRATH or indignation of God is a vastly different matter from the tribulations inflicted by men. At the time of the end, especially, it is well to distinguish sharply between the day of God's indignation and the great affliction, although they occur at the same time. Because of man's moral delinquencies God's indignation is coming on the sons of stubbornness (Eph. 5:6). It will be especially manifested in the day of His indignation (Rev.6:17; 11:18) and will be especially severe on Israel (Luke 21:23), especially the worshipers of the wild beast (Rev.14:10) and apostate Babylon (Rev.16:19). Indeed they already have had a foretaste of it (1 Thess.2:16).
Perhaps the very earliest change in God's administration, in view of the present grace, consists in rescuing the believers among the nations out of this coming indignation (1 Thess.1:10). The reason given is that "God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, the One dying for us, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him" (1 Thess.5:9,10). Romans takes up the thread and we find that, "being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation through Him" (5:9). Of one thing we may be sure, that God will never be angry with us, or visit us with the lightning and thunder of His indignation. When His wrath is poured out upon the earth we will not be here to endure it.
This, indeed, is the burden of the Thessalonian epistles. The time of indignation is the dawning of the day of the Lord, and must precede the coming of the kingdom. So long as the kingdom was being heralded it was due at any time. The Thessalonians were suffering severe afflictions and persecutions (2 Thess.1:4). This they mistook for the divine indignation, and thought themselves already in the day of the Lord (2 Thess.2:2). But this cannot be because of the previous presence of our Lord (2 Thess.2:1), and because God had preferred them from the beginning for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13). They suffered from a delusion which has since misled many a saint, that it, that affliction is an evidence of God's anger, and that if we are pleasing God, everything will be pleasant and agreeable.
Later God's pacific attitude was further developed into the great truth of the conciliation, so that, until God alters His mode of administration, in the next economy, even unbelievers are not subject to His indignation. The dispensation of the conciliation is based on the great truth that God, in Christ, was conciliating the world to Himself, and is not reckoning their offenses to them (2 Cor.5:19). So that, so long as there is no change in dispensation, from conciliation to indignation, the whole world is immune from the divine displeasure. Salvation from the coming wrath, however, is only for those who, like the
Thessalonians, are snatched away to meet the Lord at His presence (1 Thess.4:17).
TRIBULATION, OR AFFLICTION
The great difference between affliction and indignation is apparent from the fact that the former comes from men, the latter from God, and thus we are promised affliction while we are preserved from indignation. Affliction is especially for the saints. We glory in afflictions (Rom.5:3) though we dread God's indignation. We are to endure affliction (Rom.12:12) but be delivered from indignation. The Thessalonians received the word in much affliction, but they were not suffering from God's indignation.
The Unveiling reveals God's indignation on Israel and the nations, but it also discloses the fact that John (Rev.1:9), the saints in Smyrna (2:9-10) and the vast white-robed throng (7:14) suffered affliction at the hands of His enemies.
Man's day, mortal misrule, does not cease of itself when the ecclesia is caught away. It does not voluntarily hand over the government of the earth to Messiah. on the contrary, it reaches the summit of its development in the day of Jehovah, just before His advent, in the man of sin, the false Christ. No man has ever been elevated to the height which he will attain. The indignation of God is turned against mankind and its head at the very commencement of Jehovah's day. The great object of God's dealings with His creatures is to humble them and make them subject to Himself. This He does by means of evil. When man rises in rebellion against Him at the time of the end, He uses the same medicine, but in much stronger doses. He gives vent to His indignation by turning the powers of nature, the pride of man, and the spirit world against humanity, so that the earth is swept clear of rebellion and Christ assumes the throne. This is the divine side of that era. For a brief period, as at the deluge, He allows His fury free play.
THE GREAT AFFLICTION
The so-called "great tribulation," or great affliction, presents a widely different line of thought, and ought to be associated with man's day rather than with the day of Jehovah. It speaks of the distress brought upon Israel by men. The nations have persecuted His ancient people during most of man's day, and they are doing so still. But the greatest of all pogroms will come when Jehovah's day has got under way. Then faithful Jews will refuse to worship the symbol of man's rule, and suffer from his hands. The unfaithful part of the nation, however, along with the other nations, will suffer from God's indignation, which must not be confused with the great affliction of faithful Israelites from their fellow men. This time of trouble will be the climax of Jewish persecution, the last that will be allowed. It is the climax of man's day rather than the commencement of Jehovah's, though it is in both. It belongs to the darkness of the night rather than to the light of the morning. Christ does not direct this affliction, but avenges it. Although it takes place in the commencement of the Lord's day, it is a holdover from man's day. For the saints the day of the Lord is characterized by blessing and glory, not by affliction.
The greatest of all afflictions, however, comes exclusively to Israel, in the midst of the seventieth heptad, at the time of the end. On the mount of Olives our Lord foretold this time. They will be hated by all of the nations. Many will be in the land. The abomination of desolation will be set up in the holy place. Then those in Judea are warned to flee into the mountains, for then shall be great affliction, such as has not occurred before, neither ever may be recurring. Immediately after the affliction the Son of Mankind will come (Matt.24:4-31). It will also extend to all nations, for the vast white-robed throng which comes out of this tribulation was in all nations and tribes and peoples and languages. The rewards they receive are those which belong to the earth and Israel (Rev.7:14-17).
To differentiate between the indignation of God against mankind and the great "tribulation" or affliction of the saints at the hands of men is so vital that we will repeat the principal contrasts. The indignation introduces the day of the Lord and is the opposite of the conciliation which characterizes this administration of grace. The great affliction is only a continuation of the afflictions of the saints, which have been present throughout man's day, but is the worst of all because this day reaches its climax, and is reaching its end. It does not commence until the man of sin is unveiled. If we relate the indignation to the Lord's day, and the great affliction to man's day, that will help much to clarify our conception of that era, the greatest crisis in human history.
The book of the Revelation (1:10) begins with the announcement that John is in the Lord's day. All subsequent action in its corresponds with this fact. Christ, as Prophet, takes His place among the Israelitish ecclesias and judges them. As the Lambkin in the Throne section He breaks the seals and sends the messengers of doom. In the Temple section He directs the pouring out of the bowls of God's fury. God's indignation is everywhere, until the kingdom comes. The great affliction, however, is confined to the fifth seal. It occupies only the latter half of the seven years.
The structure, or framework, of Revelation seems to be quite symmetrical, and is pivoted between the day of Jehovah and the day of God. In both, Christ is seen in His three characters as Prophet, Potentate and Priest. But it does not seem to include any other time. It is quite remarkable that nothing is said of the consummation, after the day of God. If there were, we might expect to find a period before the day of the Lord, to correspond. Even as the messages to the ecclesias at the end (Rev.22:6-17) are in the day of God, so the messages to the seven ecclesias in the beginning must be in the Lord's day, as, indeed, we read that they are (Rev.1:10). John was told to write what he himself observed in that day. But the advent day comes before us several times. After the seals and the trumpets and the thunders are past, then the world kingdom becomes our Lord's and His Christ's (Rev.11:15). After the outpouring of the seven bowls and the destruction of Babylon, then again we read that the Lord reigns, and He comes on His white horse and takes His place as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev.19:7,11,16). The advent day is the crowning event in the day of Jehovah.
There was a time when the question was much discussed, "Will the church go through the great tribulation?" But in those days the light was still dim. We did not see clearly who it was that went into the great tribulation, and we were even less clear as to who came out of it. In fact it was generally taken for granted that the "great multitude" must belong to the nations (as it came out of them) if not to the "Church." Now we know that the Lord was speaking to His disciples of the Circumcision, and it applies only to them. And this is confirmed by the throng which comes out. They also belong to the Circumcision, not to us. The action takes place, not in the administration of grace, but in the next economy of indignation, hence cannot include those who belong to this present secret administration.
So long as the world is at enmity with God, and the saints are not vivified, there will be affliction for those who are His. God uses it in producing endurance, and testedness, and expectation (Rom.5:3,4). The greatest affliction comes as might be expected, when the triumph of godlessness has reached its height under the man of lawlessness. At that time, however, God's indignation will also be poured out. On this account we will be spared that experience. The nation which will enjoy the heights of earthly bliss in the last two eons, will be called upon to go through the deepest affliction of earth's history in the brief period before the kingdom comes. They enter this tribulation and they emerge. Thank God, it is not for us!