A small book has been lent to me entitled "Will the Church Escape the Great Tribulation?" It is by one Edmund Shackleton; and it appears to have been so highly thought of as to have run into several editions. From internal evidence, it appears to have been written many years ago. As usual with books on this subject, it is a mass of confused thought, unscriptural terms and general vagueness; yet it is not without some points of interest.
The Title itself comes under condemnation on the grounds above; as anyone who asks "Which church?" will perceive at once. For nowhere do the words ekklEsia, and thlipsis, tribulation or affliction, occur in the same context except in Rev. 2:18-29. The "great tribulation" is referred to in Matt. 24:21, 29, in the parallel passage Mark 13:14-27, Rev. 7:14 and, some may contend, Rev. 2:22. Although this last is part of a letter beginning with the word church (v. 18), and churches is found in vv. 23, 29, it says nothing whatever about any "church" going through the great tribulation itself, but only of certain individuals going through great tribulation (with no the) as a special punishment. That some of God's people will suffer under "the great tribulation" seems plain from Matthew 24; that any of these will belong to the church which is Christ's body is nowhere stated; and we can ransack the Scriptures in vain for any such idea.
Also nothing is said about "escaping" the great tribulation; even though it is a fair deduction that some, at least, of those who flee (Matt. 24:16) will do so. It is a fact, also, that the great tribulation will be universal and not confined to any group, assembly or church.
If even this is insufficient to convince those who follow Mr. Shackleton, perhaps one simple question, which he evidently overlooked, may do so. "What 'church' is confined to 'those in Judea'?"; or, alternatively, "Why should the 'church' in Judea alone have a chance to escape?"
Thus Mr. Shackleton's enquiry stultifies itself before it even starts. To say anything further on the matter is like running a corn mill without any grain to grind. Indeed, I would stop here were it not for the fact that Mr. Shackleton has managed to make a few points that are novel to me Before examining them it is worth mentioning that he refers first to "new view" that "the coming of Christ was not one event," but was divided into stages; and at once (as might be expected) he refers to 1. Thess. 4:16, carefully ignoring the fact that this epistle makes no reference whatever to any coming of the Lord Jesus. He refers to "a contradiction in terms—two Second Comings" and he is entirely right so far, though the contradiction is in his own thinking. This I went into in detail in our Vol. 24, pp. 257-260.
Presently (p. 7 of his booklet) Mr. Shackleton reaches his real target. To be entirely fair to him and those who think in his queer way, I quote as follows:
He then talks of "apportioning the New Testament Scriptures between Christians and Jews." Were no Jews among those styled "Christians" in Acts 11:26? However, he soon backs out of the impossible position he has assumed; for, immediately, he says, "I do not, of course, refer to those passages which obviously speak of Israel." We need ask no more! What is so deplorable about this is his fundamental stupidity, for a man must be utterly stupid who contradicts himself thus. A pagan author wrote, I believe, something to this effect: "The gods themselves struggle in vain against human stupidity." How right he was! But why publish an 86-page booklet to illustrate it?
There is this to be said on Mr. Shackleton's behalf: he may have come across the deplorable ideas started by J. J. B. Coles which culminated in some people handing over such Scriptures as the Thessalonians Epistles to Israel. If so, he has some justification; but why relegate the rest of us to this queer sect? Yet in fairness we must praise highly his condemnation of those who recklessly "divide" Scripture to force it into conformity with their own theories. In particular, he cites a sect which thinks that "no scriptures directly applied to the Church except Ephesians and Colossians." I had no idea that anyone had gone so far into folly!
Coming to his actual appeals to Scripture, his reference to Acts 3:21 has been refuted already. He drags Matt. 13:30 into 1. Thess. 4:13-17, spoiling both. He certainly fails in his idea of "handling without distortion" when he quietly alters "ease" in 2. Thess. 1:7 to "enter into rest" and "in the unveiling of the Lord Jesus" to "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed." He pours scorn on the obvious fact that Matt. 24:4—25:46 refers to the disciples of the Lord Jesus who are of Israel. The references to "the Gentiles" in 24:9, 14; 25:32 make this fully plain to all who have not wilfully blinded themselves. He speaks again of those who assert "that Christ spoke to the disciples as Jews, not as Christians." By introducing such a false antithesis as this he has no difficulty in proving his case to his own satisfaction.
Presently he uses 1. Cor. 15:54 to "prove" that "our resurrection synchronises with the Lord's appearing to Israel. .." This quietly assumes that the passage refers to one event and one only. But, whenever, hotan, need not be a unique event, as 1. Cor. 14:26 plainly shows. Another characteristic example of his distressingly casual, almost contemptuous, handling of Scripture is his assertion (his p. 27) that the last trump "is called the trump of God in 1. Thess. 4 and is therefore identical with the trump of Zech. 9:14." "Therefore!"
He trots out again the old, foolish, theory that there can be only one "parousia," etc.
There are two things I have yet to find: a Christian expositor who is always wholly right, and one who is always wholly wrong. Mr. Shackleton illustrates this admirably. Never, by any chance, does he display any doubt of his own rightness or any suspicion that there may be something to be said for his many opponents. Consequently, he never thoroughly or even fairly examines any opposing ideas. He ridicules the assertion made by many that ho katechOn, the one detaining in 2. Thess. 2:7 "is the Holy Spirit in the Church," as he puts it; and he is quite right in this view. Yet the reason he gives for so doing is astonishingly presumptuous: "It is incredible that those who will be witnesses for God against the Antichrist will be left to cope with him and his delusions, without the aid of the indwelling Spirit of God." Who is he, who are we—any of us—to lay down what God may or may not be permitted to do? What makes this all the worse is the fact that Scripture itself puts the assertion he objects to out of court, without our opinions being asked for, did he but know it; for the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was first on Israel and only later on Gentiles. Until He has done His work for the former as well as the latter (as He is now doing) there can be no possibility of Him being taken away.
Men so ill-equipped as this ought not to dare to rush into print to defend the truth or what they imagine to be the truth. Yet they will do it! No wonder the voice of truth is almost drowned by the clamour of such supposed defenders of it. Would that they could acquire a little modesty and Christian humility.
In conclusion, I cannot resist referring to his most revealing comment on 2. Thess. 2:2: "as that the day of the Lord has become present," or "has set in" as Rotherham renders it, for the verb is enistEmi, and undoubtedly means this. But Mr. Shackleton says "Therefore the notion is absurd that they had been beguiled into the belief that 'the day' had already come—without the Lord Himself, or any of the preliminary and concomitant events foretold in Scripture." Well, absurd or not, that is what the Apostle Paul says, and I prefer his opinion to that of Mr. Shackleton. It is a pity that this booklet is not more generally available, for it reveals that modern Christians can believe things just as absurd as this belief of some of the Thessalonians.
R.B.W. Last updated 11.4.2006