The question arises: can people be saved during the tribulation, and if so, can they survive it? Short version: yes. This article will present some pertinent information.
In opening, it should be understood that salvation during the tribulation and beyond will occur in the exact same way that it does today: by grace through faith (Eph, 2:8-9), which involves being sealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14), which means the Holy Spirit must be present on earth at that time performing the exact same ministry he does today. These things must continue, because if not, Jesus would stop existing. Read Heb 7:22 in a few different translations: KJV "By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament;" NIV "Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant;" NAS "so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant." If the covenant is broken, the guarantee has no value because it did not perform, there would be no salvation, and Jesus would no longer exist. This is not going to happen. As stated above, I believe that during the tribulation salvation will occur exactly the same as today.
I believe this issue arises due to folks wanting to assign the position of withholder or restrainer (II Th. 2:6-7) to the Holy Spirit and in order to do that, he would have to leave the earth at the rapture, meaning salvation would occur in a different manner from that time forward. Assigning the position of restrainer to the Holy Spirit is humble and laudable, but it is not necessarily factual. For more information, click here.
We understand that during the tribulation the Jewish temple will be rebuilt and Israel will again operate under the sacrificial system, but that does not mean that God reverts to the law. Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, our bodies are the temple of God (I Cor 6:19) and the sacrifice of Jesus was the once and for all resolution to the sin and salvation issue. In order to change the method and result of salvation, huge portions of the New Testament would have to be deleted, and by the word of Jesus that will not happen: "heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matt. 24:35)
A common assumption is often made that everyone who is saved during the tribulation will be martyred or killed, but if this is so, who are the ‘elect’ who are gathered at the second advent (Matt. 24:31), and who are the ‘these my brethren’ who attend (but neither speak nor are addressed at) the sheep and goats judgment? (Matt 25:31-46). Further, why does the scripture contain instructions about what to do when? These instructions would be unnecessary if all Christians were to die, and God could have saved his people a lot of fear and apprehension by not giving the prophecy about what is going to happen.
The belief that all who are saved will die is based on prophecies of antichrist’s murderous activities. This assumes that antichrist has more destructive power than God has saving and delivering power, but the fact is, he doesn't. Please don't misunderstand. Without question it will be a horrible time to be an earth dweller, but Jesus said (Matt 24:22) except those days be shortened there would no flesh survive, but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. This means there will be an elect on earth at that time, those days will be shortened for their sake, thus there will be Christians who survive the tribulation. Having said that, I would not want to risk missing the rapture due to a failure to attend to eternal matters today. A lot of believers will survive, but a lot will also die horribly.
In Rev. 7 we see two groups of saved people who live through the tribulation. Rev. 1:1 said this book is "the revelation of Jesus Christ", i.e. it is something that belongs to him that he is sharing with us, but it also reveals him. While the persecutions under antichrist WILL be severe, Jesus is revealed in Rev. 7 by his ability to keep his people through this horrible time. Survival will be dependant upon knowing the scripture and his voice and obedience to both.
In this article we are going to address the group known as the great multitude. Rev 7:9-10 says, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
The verse tells us it is a great multitude which no man could number - so many people that no man can count this high. They are of all: nations - ethnos, ethnic groups; kindreds - offshoot races; people - in general, a society other than our own; and tongues - languages, and they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
Rev. 4:4 told us the elders, the glorified saints from the church age, were seated, and from this we learn that people in heaven do not stand, they sit. The great multitude is not raptured to heaven - if they were they would be taking their seats with the elders, and we do not see this happening. Neither are these people dead - if they were they would be joining the souls under the altar, and we do not see this happening either.
Instead, they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb. A Christian does not have to be physically in heaven in order to stand before the throne. Heb. 4:15-16 tells us, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." If ever there were a time of need, the Great Tribulation is it. In Rev. 1:4 the seven-fold spirit, the Holy Spirit, is before the throne. He also dwells in believers. Heb. 12:2 instructs us to look "unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God."
Obviously, it is not necessary to be physically in heaven to go before the throne of God. When we pray, praise and worship we are before the throne.
The great multitude is clothed with white robes, which is why they are able to stand: they are wearing the robe of righteousness, it is a spiritual robe, Jesus counseled the Laodiceans to buy it from him before the rapture, and it is the garment which is worn in heaven, but it is put on before we go there. Rev 6:17 says, "For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" For various reasons (article yet to come) I believe this sixth seal is the second advent of Jesus, and while the lost ask ‘who shall be able to stand’, the great multitude can say, "We are able!"
They have palm branches in their hands. In scripture a tree represents a nation, i.e. the fig tree represents Israel, but the palm is representative of the millennial reign of Jesus when the entire earth will be one nation under God. The temple of Solomon was a type of the millennial reign and palm trees were used in it (I Kings 6 & 7). Palms will be used extensively in the millennial temple (Ez. 40 & 41). Palm branches are used in keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, another type of the millennium (Lev. 23:40; Neh. 8:15).
While all the gospels tell us the people waved branches in welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem just before he was crucified, John 12:13 tells us it was palm branches that they waved. The people welcomed Jesus by saying "Hosanna: blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." This is quoted from Ps. 118:26, a Messianic Psalm that is prophetic of the millennium, it is the greeting given to Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, and according to the statements of Jesus in Luke 13:35 and Matt. 23:39, they are the required words to be spoken by Israel to acknowledge and bring back the Messiah.
The great multitude in Rev. 7 is on earth and waving palm branches because they are looking forward to the millennial reign of Jesus Christ: they will populate the earth during that time. Notice they are not wearing gold crowns as the elders do. The elders received their crowns at the rapture which also included the judgment of their works (for more information click here). In Rev. 22:12 Jesus said, "Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me to give to every man according as his works shall be." At the time of Revelation 7 Jesus will have already come for the church and they will have already received their reward. He will come again at the second advent and his reward will again be with him, but the reward for the saved at that time will be to enter the millennial kingdom based solely on the fact of their salvation. Just as today, Christians are saved by grace, not works. We understand the great multitude is present at the sheep and goats judgment, but as the group referenced as 'these my brethren.' The only way to become a 'brethren' of Jesus is through the new birth. The great multitude is not the sheep and goats who did not receive the mark of the beast, yet also did not accept salvation. The great multitude cannot be the sheep and goats because they will experience a life or death, heaven or hell judgment by their works at the second advent, and no Christian is ever judged by his works. We are saved by grace. The wicked will also receive a reward according to their works. If this great multitude were raptured to heaven they should be wearing gold crowns and taking their seats with the elders, but this is not happening.
The rapture is a co-event with the resurrection. If this multitude is raptured there should be some mention of the souls under the altar coming out and joining them, but this is not happening.
Let’s do a comparison of elders and multitude:
In short, the elders are in heaven as a result of the resurrection/rapture, while the multitude is not. This great multitude does not represent a rapture at all.
Rev 7:10-12 says the great multitude "cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen."
We see here a praise and worship service started by the great multitude, and the angels join in the worship. We see the beasts and elders present, but they don't join in the worship as they did in chapter 4. Why? Possibly because the great multitude is on earth. Heb. 1:14 says angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation, and these angels have a current and direct connection to the multitude.
Rev 7:13-14 says, "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
The elder asks John two questions: 1. what are these; and 2. where did they come from. Notice: the elder does not ask John WHERE, or more importantly, WHO they have come TO. John responds to the elder that he (the elder) knows, and the elder provides the answer to the two questions: in answer to the first question, what are these which are arrayed in white robes: these are they which have come; and in answer to the second question, where did they come from: out of great tribulation.
According to Matt. 24:21 the days following the abomination of desolation will be great tribulation. Because these have come out of great tribulation, it is impossible for this to be a mid-tribulation rapture - they don't get saved until after the mid-point.
The elder does not state WHERE they have come TO because they are still on earth - they haven't changed their location at all. He also does not state WHO they have come to, it is obvious that they have come to Jesus. The elder does state HOW they came: they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb which is the righteousness that is imputed to those saved by Jesus.
Rev 7:15-17 concludes the passage regarding the great multitude. "15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
The first thing to notice is the first few phrases are stated in the present tense: the words are ‘they are’ before the throne of God serving him day and night, not, ‘they shall be’. We already know that a person does not have to be in heaven to go before the throne of God. Notice that they serve him day and night in his temple. The actual bodies of Christians are the temple of God and there is no night in heaven (Rev. 21:25), so these people can't be there. Notice that he that sits on the throne SHALL dwell among them. This is a future tense and it refers to Jesus dwelling on earth during the millennium.
The passage tells us they shall have no more hunger or thirst. This is both spiritual and natural when Jesus returns to earth. In verse 16, the Wuest translation says "Nor shall the sun nor any scorching heat strike upon them, positively not..." This statement may give an indication regarding the time of the passage: Rev. 16:8 (the fourth bowl) is the sun scorching men with fire toward the end of the tribulation.
Verse 17 explains verse 16. The word 'shall' is used three times: 1. the Lamb shall feed them; 2. and shall lead them to fountains of living waters; 3. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. These are expressed in the future tense (future to the passage) and they refer to life during the millennium first and later to life in heaven itself.
So, we learn from this chapter that people who get saved during the tribulation, not just Jews but people from all over the earth, will indeed live through the seven years of tribulation that are soon to come upon this earth.