According to Webster's dictionary, "tribulation" means "a state of great trouble or suffering." The Tribulation is a period of time set aside for two purposes; the judgment of a Christ-rejecting world and the national redemption of Israel.
I've searched the Scriptures on this particular topic and nowhere can I find a third purpose that could involve the Church.
The twenty-one judgments of Revelation are the culmination of the Edenic curse; there are environmental judgments against the earth and sea, judgments against animals and fish, and judgments against those whom the Apostle John says "dwell upon the earth."
Uniquely, Revelation uses this curious phrase "dwell upon the earth". John is carefully distinguishing those that "dwell upon the earth" from those that are 'dwelling' elsewhere.
The word "dwell" means 'to inhabit' in the sense of a physical home and came to Old English from the Middle Dutch word "dwellen" which means "to stun or perplex" according to the on-board dictionary that comes standard on a Mac.
(I'm not doing an ad for Mac here -- I want to be clear that my source here is an ordinary dictionary which has no point to make)
The phrase "they that dwell upon the earth" is used in Scripture exclusively within the framework of the Tribulation Period.
Revelation 3:10 draws a distinction between those who dwell upon the earth and those the Lord will keep from the trial specifically designed for them:
"Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
I've heard every possible refutation of that verse as it pertains to the Church and the Rapture. However, one cannot explain away the fact the Lord is drawing a distinction -- those that dwell upon the earth will undergo a period of 'trial' whereas, somebody else will be kept from it.
In Revelation 6:10, the martyrs slain for the Word of God ". . . cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
Again, we have a distinction between the martyrs for Christ and those that dwell upon the earth. The phrase "them that dwell on the earth" is used to describe those responsible for shedding the blood of the martyrs.
They "that dwell upon the earth" are identified in Revelation 11:10 as rejoicing over the deaths of the two witnesses;
"And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth."
In Revelation 13:8 they are identified as the unsaved who will worship the antichrist:
"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
The Scripture says specifically that 'they that dwell upon the earth' during the Tribulation are those against whom the Two Witnesses prophesied, which is why they that dwell upon the earth during the Tribulation will rejoice.
It also links "all that dwell upon the earth" to the antichrist and says that their names are NOT in the Book of Life.
In Revelation 13:14 John says the False Prophet:
". . .deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live."
Those that dwell upon the earth will be universally deceived by the means of miracles and will worship the beast as a god.
Meanwhile, Revelation 14:6 further identifies they that dwell upon the earth as those in need of salvation . . .
"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people."
Note also that while 'them that dwell upon the earth' are in need of the Gospel, there appears to be nobody around to preach it to them. That job has been assigned to an angel.
Revelation 17:8 provides further insight into both the Beast and who they that dwell upon the earth might be.
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is."
I believe John is identifying the Beast in all its forms, political, religious and systematic; Political Rome was, but then collapsed, went 'underground' so to speak, transferring power to the papacy temporarily -- until the political Beast reemerges as leader of the revived Roman Empire.
John identifies "they that dwell upon the earth" once again as being those whose names are not in the Book of Life and who will join the Beast 'in perdition'.
It is fairly obvious from these Scriptures that they that dwell upon the earth during the Tribulation Period are not Christians. Those who are Christians are pictured in heaven.
Those who get saved during the Tribulation, whether through the 144,000 evangelists of Revelation 7 or the angel of Revelation 14 cannot be included among those "that dwell upon the earth" because they will be executed.
". . . cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. " Revelation 13:15 says. That is another way of saying "all" -- although John gets more specific on that point in the next two verses.
"And he causeth ALL, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that NO man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." (Revelation 13:16-17)
That seems pretty inclusive. One can find within this structure those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, those who by taking the mark will have their names blotted out and those who are killed for refusing the mark.
But those who are killed are NOT those that 'dwell upon the earth' -- they are the ones dwelling with John in heaven.
In 2009, a crowd estimated at 1.7 million marched on Washington to protest the government plan to impose health care. Can you imagine the protest that would come if the millions of Christians in America were given the ultimatum of denying Christ and worshipping Obama?
However, if those millions suddenly vanished into thin air and Obama claimed credit for it, them 'that dwell upon the earth' would line up to get their mark as quickly as they lined up for Cash for Clunkers.
If one begins from the perspective that the Church is not uniquely exempt from judgment by virtue of being saved, then it isn't really too hard to find verses in Tribulation that might be interpreted as the Church. Tribulation saints easily become born-again Christians in this view.
But if one begins from the perspective that judgment for sin means sins both forgiven and unforgiven, then again, it might be possible to argue that the Church qualifies for the twenty-one judgments of the Tribulation.
But if one simply tries to figure out who John is referring to when he speaks of "them that dwell upon the earth" it is abundantly clear that the one thing they ALL have in common is that their names are not found in the Book of Life.
And according to the Scripture, they are the only ones dwelling here. The Church is present with John from the moment that John hears a voice from heaven saying "Come up hither" in Revelation 4:1.
It would be a simple matter to delve into Revelation and interpret a few verses a bit differently and build an argument for a pre-wrath or post trib Rapture -- I am anticipating getting a few in response to this column.
What is not so simple, however, is coming up with verses that suggest the indwelt Church is numbered among "they that dwell upon the earth" during this period.
And if the Church isn't among those dwelling upon the earth, then where is it dwelling? There is only one answer that fits both the Scriptures and the chronological and logical narrative presented by Revelation.
"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. . ." (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17)
". . . .And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming." (2nd Thessalonians 2:8)
The Tribulation is specifically set aside for "them that dwell upon the earth". "Them that dwell upon the earth" are specifically identified as the unsaved whose names are not in the Book of Life.
The Church is not there. The Church left, along with John in Revelation 4:1.
"Wherefore, comfort one another with these words."