Why would Christ return to cut short the great tribulation – isn’t that part of God’s wrath?

This question is derived from the many perspectives that overlap the Day of the Lord with what’s referred to as the Great Tribulation – concluding they refer to the same time period. Pretribulationism is one such perspective which takes this view.

Why Cut Short the Tribulation/God’s Wrath?

Since it’s reasonable to conclude that Christ alone has authority to execute God’s wrath(1), it does seem somewhat contradictory to cut that time short – assuming of course these two events are one and the same. When we unpack the question we end up with at least two:

A) Why would Christ return to cut short the Great Tribulation/Day of the Lord?
B) Are these two events one and the same?

As we seek to answer the first question we’ll keep an eye open for what we notice regarding the second question. We’ll begin by looking at the parallel accounts to Matthew 24, found in Mark 13 and Luke 21. They offer a similar perspective but with some additional information.

Mark 13:19-20 (ESV)
19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.

Observations:

  • This is a period of tribulation greater than any seen prior.
  • Christ is excluding the time since the creation until now; the time in which he was speaking, about 34 A.D.
  • This period of tribulation eventually threatens all humanity, including his elect, his chosen ones
  • For their sake he’s going to intervene and shorten those days
  • He’s speaking to Peter, James, John, and Andrew (vs 3-4) and warns them about events in their future (vs 23)

So the clear reading from Mark 13 is that Christ’s intervention into this period of increased tribulation is to shorten the event and prevent it from destroying his chosen ones. An obvious question is – what makes these chosen ones unique and what does Christ intend for them?

Christ’s Intent for His Chosen Ones

We won’t have time to dig very deep into this topic but we can see from scripture some of the plans Christ has for his faithful elect. I’ll note several so that we can draw a basic picture of what he’s trying to achieve.

Colossians 1:25-28 (ESV)
25 of which I [Paul] became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Observations:

  • It is God’s will that his mystery in Christ(2) be manifest in those called to him. This was now to include the Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
  • The hope that came to them through God’s promise, as evidenced in Christ’s resurrection, was that as we grow and mature in Christ we can be assured of the same glorification.
  • This glorification was promised when? At Christ’s appearing. (Colossians 3:4)

The mystery Paul is referring to is called the Mystery of God. Discover more.

1 Peter 1:7-9 (ESV)
7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Observations:

  • The genuineness of our faith in God and his Christ is proven not just spoken. Recall that Abraham’s faith was proven by his willingness to sacrifice his son of blessing, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. (Romans 4; Galatians 3:1-9; James 2:18-22)
  • Our faith is tested by fire. Like the process used to refine metals such as gold, this is the process used to refine the character of those called into Christ. (Matthew 3:11; Galatians 5:22; Revelation 3:18)
  • To what end? That our victory in Christ will result in praise and glory and honor to the God who has called us into the glorious light of Christ.
  • And our reward? The salvation of our very souls – with joy that is inexpressible.

The apostle Paul also speaks of this underlying purpose for our calling in 2 Thessalonians.

2 Thessalonians 1:10-12
10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s identify some of the key details given here. The author, perhaps unknowingly, outlines the answer to Christ’s earlier prayer in the garden (Fourth Gospel 17).

  • When our Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven
  • He comes to be glorified by his saints
  • So that our testimony about you (and your belief in him) may be believed in that day
  • He comes to glorify his saints with him

So we not only share in the glory of our Lord when he appears, but we also contribute to it – we confirm, add evidence, and proclaim to the world:

  • that he is the Son of God
  • that he is the Redeemer
  • that he is the Forgiver of sin
  • that he is our High Priest
  • that he is the Resurrection and the Light
  • that God loved him
  • that God loved us – those he gave to him
  • that the world may know and believe (as we know and believe)

As is usual with God, the calling of his elect results in eternal life for them yet also bears fruit for others. This fruit shows the righteous judgment of God in our lives as proof and evidence to the world. Recall that the unity for which Christ prayed in the garden (Fourth Gospel 17:20-23) wasn’t for their own sake. What was the purpose behind the unity? It was repeated several times:

  • so that the world may believe that you did send me
  • so that the world may know that you did send me
  • and that you did love them just as you loved me

The motivation of Christ is dictated by the will of the Father. The Father has called many to himself through the Son so that, like the Son, the fruit of their lives would be a blessing to others. The culmination of this blessing comes at Christ’s appearance for the glorification of his faithful – that they too will be glorified with him when he returns in glory. Yet underneath their glorification is the manifestation of that work in Christ to the world; the firstfruits of salvation.

So in part we can answer the first question of why Christ would come to cut short the great tribulation for his faithful elect:

  • To manifest the fruit of their faithfulness to the end; the salvation of their souls
  • To reveal to the world the fruit of God’s righteous judgment upon his faithful servants
    • These were deceived sinners, from the world, called into the light of truth through grace and faith in the Son of God
    • They are the first to trust in Christ; the firstfruits of salvation
  • Clearly this will be achieved in large part through the resurrection of the faithful dead in Christ
  • Yet it’s clearly important that many experiencing the event remain alive and are changed – in the twinkling of an eye to share in the glory of our Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

There’s more to learn about Christ’s called, chosen, and faithful. Discover more.

Let’s continue reading in Mark 13 since there is more going on during this time of much tribulation.

Mark 13:21-23
21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Observations:

  • Another characteristic of this time of tribulation is deception
  • The deception revolves around those claiming that Christ is here or that they are the Christ
  • Yet Christ warns his followers in advance – do not believe it

But if this deception is occurring during this time of tribulation, how are his faithful able to distinguish the real Christ from the false? If we continue reading, Christ himself clarifies it for us.

Mark 13:24-27
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Observations:

  • The heavenly signs; when the sun, moon, and stars are darkened, and the heavens are shaken, follows after the great tribulation
  • Following the heavenly signs is the appearance of the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory
  • It is only after Christ’s appearance that he sends his angels to gather his elect from the four corners of the earth

The event that signals their redemption has arrived is not a hidden, secret event. Quite the opposite. Amidst the darkness and doom produced by the heavenly signs will appear our glorious Savior. With a shout and a trumpet blast he will call the faithful dead from the grave and we who are alive and remain will be changed.

Luke 21:25-28
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The next obvious question is – if Christ arrives after the great tribulation and he alone has authority to administer God’s wrath, how can they be one and the same? The short answer is they’re not. The source of tribulation comes from the deceiver.

The period referred to as the great tribulation is a time of deception and destruction upon the world, focusing on the righteous (Matthew 24: 23-26; Fourth Gospel 3:36; 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 1 John 4:1; 2:18-26; Revelation 12). 

While the Day of the Lord and the wrath of God is a time of correction and destruction upon the unrighteous and disobedient of the world. (Matthew 24:38-39; Fourth Gospel 3:36; Romans 1:18-32; 2:1-11; 3:1-20; 9:21-24; Ephesians 5:1-6; Colossians 3:1-11; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; Philippians 1:27-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-8; Revelation 6:12-16).

Is the Great Tribulation the Same as the Day of the Lord? Read more.

Conclusions

Our goal in this brief article was to begin to address the reasons why Christ would intervene and cut short the period of Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, which the questioner presumed were one and the same. We discovered a few of the motivating factors that contribute to the reason Christ intervenes on behalf of his faithful elect. We also noticed that there appears to be a clear distinction between the period of much tribulation before the heavenly signs and the appearance of Jesus Christ returning in power and great glory after the heavenly signs.


There is much more to learn about each of these topics and links have been provided to related articles. Those tagged with Read more lead you to related channel questions and their basic answers. Those tagged Discover more are part of a more in-depth study program. Any tagged with Learn more address methods, processes, and resources which can aid your approach to learning. All are free resources to assist you in gaining a more unfiltered view of God’s word.


Presuppositions

At the close of each article we’ll cite the relevant presuppositions that support it. This enables the reader to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the context. To learn more about presuppositions, see the About page.

  1. Revelation 5 establishes Yeshua, the Christ, as the only one worthy to oversee the final events of the last days. He does this not just by his positional authority as the Son of God but also by his relational authority as the Lamb of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the Root of David.
  2. The Mystery of God revolves around the salvific work of Jesus Christ and is manifest in his new creation. (Fourth Gospel 3:1-21; Romans 8:28-31; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 6:14-18)
  3. The biblical reference to the last days refers to the time period just after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ until his second coming to establish his kingdom on earth. (Acts 2:17-21; Hebrews 1:1-4; Fourth Gospel 6:37-40, 44)

Published by GMajella

Husband, father, and author on theological topics, with a focus on the underlying presuppositions which either cloud or enhance our view of reality. My focus is to challenge and guide fellow Christians into a deeper knowledge of God; his work, his will, and his overall purpose. My primary methods will be through books, blogs, and virtual or personal events.

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