“Doc, d’you remember me coming to see you a couple of weeks ago about ‘being caught up to be with the Lord’?” asked Jim Melrose of the second year.
“I do indeed. . . . So have you some further questions you want to ask me?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind, sir. . . . Mark Lester joins me this time. The subject is connected with ‘being caught up.'”
“Well now, perhaps you’d better make yourselves comfortable . . . Yes, that’s right, take a couple of chairs from over there. I doubt whether anyone else will need them for a while.”
“We wanted to ask you about a rather contentious matter,” said Melrose. “It’s best summed up by asking when we shall be changed. There seems to be a sharp division between ‘pre-tribbers’ and ‘post-tribbers’, to use current jargon. Do you have some ideas that might help us to know which group is theologically correct?”
“Ha, ha! So that’s it? You want to go away from here and say, ‘Doctor Quinton believes this way or that,’ thereby using my authority to bolster your own position? Am I right?”
“Well, I suppose when you boil it down, it could be seen in that light,” said Lester. “But we didn’t get as far as that in our thinking. We just wanted to get some advice.”
“Good. . . . Now tell me this. What have you studied so far on this subject?”
“The usual passages, sir,” said Melrose. “You know, first Corinthians 15, and second Thessalonians 2. By carefully selecting sentences, you can end up supporting either side in the dispute.”
“So I suppose ‘tribulation’ is the key word in this issue. Am I right?” asked Doc.
“Yes, sir. The arguments all hinge on whether the church will be caught up to meet the Lordbefore the great tribulation, or whether it will be required to go through it.”
“Yes, yes, . . . I am of course fully aware of the controversy. But what does it mean to you?”
“We find it difficult to resolve, Doc,” said Lester. “Once you get persuaded by one side, you think you’re home and dry, and then someone comes along and disturbs your equilibrium, and throws you into doubt.”
“Perhaps both sides are right, or shall I say perhaps both sides are wrong,” said Doc.
The lads looked at each other, and then at Doctor Quinton, who sat looking at them with his commonly experienced quizzical smile.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Melrose, “but I can’t follow your logic.”
“Well now, let’s examine the matter a step at a time. Tell me what you conclude by looking at the latter half of Revelation chapter 7.”
The lads turned to the chapter and read it before answering. Lester was the first to comment. “An uncountable number of people pass through the Great Tribulation, and come out the other side with honours.”
“Precisely,” said Doc. “So these at least have had to go through that specific time of trouble. . . Now tell me what it says about Jacob’s trouble, the other expression the Bible uses for that tribulation. You’ll find it in Jeremiah 30:7.”
Melrose was first to read it. “He was saved out of the time of trouble.”
“Exactly. Now have you noticed the fact that the name Jacob was used, not Israel?” asked Doc.
“Why was that?” asked Lester.
“Jacob was the natural name, the supplanter. Israel was the new name given when he had overcome. That is important to remember in this study. We’ll come back to it in a minute. Now let’s go one stage further. Turn back to Revelation 7 and tell me about the first half of the chapter.”
“These people are sealed before the troubles break out,” said Lester. “It looks as though they go through the tribulation but are untouched by its rigours.”
“Now you’ve hit the nail on the head. This group is quite different to the people of the great multitude, about whom it is said that they were hungry, thirsty, and weary from the heat of battle. Now what about these 144,000? Does it mean they are preserved from trouble, whilst the rest are exposed to it? Does that sound like a just God in action?”
“On the surface, no,” said Melrose. “So why is a difference made between them?”
“Have you considered the possibility that the 144,000 have already been through their own season of trial before the great tribulation begins? Didn’t Paul say to believers in his travels that ‘through many tribulations we must enter into the Kingdom of God’? [Acts 14:22] Such an expression doesn’t imply exemption for some, does it?”
“In that case, sir, I think you are saying that everyone has to go through the great tribulation,” said Lester.
“No, . . . you haven’t heard me correctly. I didn’t say everyone must go through ‘the greattribulation’, I said that everyone must endure some tribulation. You see, the problem you presented when you first entered the Annexe was based on a misunderstanding that is rife today. People only seem to see this thing called ‘great tribulation,’ and so they try to fit everyone into pre-tribber or post-tribber categories, as you called them. They can’t get it into their heads that tribulation exists all the time. Why do you think God finds it necessary to insist on tribulation for His children?”
“Is it to test their loyalty, sir?” asked Melrose.
“I’m sure that’s part of the answer, but I see something far more terrifying. Think again.”
“Something to do with our old Adam nature?” asked Lester.
“Now you’ve got it. . . . Now I want you to think about the content of those seven letters at the beginning of Revelation. What is the main subject the Lord was speaking about?”
“Overcoming,” said Lester. “He was asking His hearers to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, but at the end of each letter He said, ‘He that overcomes.’ In other words although the churches as a whole heard the message, only individuals here and there turned out to be overcomers.”
“A masterly way of summing it up. That’s good. Now tell me something about the old nature of man that needs tribulation.”
“I look upon it as an unbroken horse,” said Melrose. “You have to be pretty tough with horses before they are tamed and serviceable.”
“No!” barked Doc, thumping his fist on the table and making them both jump from the seats. “That’s not good enough. The old man is completely untameable. Shall I tell you something.Your present enquiry concerns the change into our resurrection bodies. I know that just one minute before my change occurs, my old nature will still be as capable of becoming a Hitler as it was 50 years ago. I’ll have no truck with it. Paul tells us there is only one thing to do with our old Adam, and that is to crucify it. Death is the only course of action. The old man is of no use to us or God. It can’t be improved, and the Lord won’t accept its efforts on His behalf. Just turn to Revelation 12, and tell me how they overcame the Devil.”
They looked down the page until the verse was found. “They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, their word of testimony, not loving their lives unto death.” Melrose felt a bit sheepish reading it.
“Have you got it? What is overcoming? It’s a messy job because we’re lumbered with a deadly monster living inside us, and the Lord asks us to have no truck with it. I’m not just asking you to have done with the coarse lusts of the flesh. Most Christians soon reach the stage where they have dealt with that. I’m talking about the refined desires of the mind as well. Death to it all! Crucify it! Have no reliance on your human understanding, strength, or prowess. Let it all go down into death. That is overcoming, and the Lord knows how hard a job it is for us humans to get to grips with it, so He helps us by sending tribulation in one form or another.Jacob’s trouble. Remember I said it was Jacob’s trouble. It was God’s way of making him intoIsrael, prince with God. Didn’t Paul say that tribulation works patience, and patience endurance, and endurance hope, and so on? [Rom.5:3] What does the word tribulation mean in the original?”
“THLIPSIS,” said Melrose. “It comes from a verb meaning to restrict, make a very narrow way.”
“That’s it. The Master spoke about that narrow way, and we do well to choose it. It’s a pathway that allows the least freedom for the old nature to operate. It’s a path where the helping hand of the Lord enables us to recognise, and then crucify, the ways of fallenness. When we are changed, we shall lose that for ever, thank God, but until then we have a battle royal on our hands, and it’s a good thing to remind ourselves of it daily, lest we hanker after the onions and garlic of Egypt.”
“So do you think anyone will be changed before the great tribulation begins, sir?” askedMelrose.
“Paul told the Philippians that he was pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the calling on high, and he encouraged his readers to do the same. He spoke about it as an out-resurrection, as though it were a prior event to the general resurrection at the Lord’s return. Whether you interpret that as a special class of believer, with an earlier change, I’ll leave you to consider. This is a subject that hinges on a number of other things related to the Kingdom ofGod. But one last word. None of God’s sons will ever be exempted from tribulation, and Paul certainly had his share. Perhaps it will be best to stop there, for me to leave you to do some more reading.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure we needed that word of discipline,” said Melrose.
“You are both still very young, but the Lord will take you through the best possible set of circumstances to elevate your new spirit whilst at the same time help you to crucify your old man. Thank you for showing me your serious attention to the ways of the Lord. He will bless you beyond anything you can imagine. You can rely on Him utterly. God bless you.”