Dispensationalists wonder whether the Tribulation period is a dispensation of its own. If the definition adopted in the “Introduction” is applied to the Tribulation, then a distinction can be clearly made between the time of the Tribulation and that which comes before and after. The dispensation of the Church ended with the Rapture; therefore, the Tribulation is not part of that dispensation. On the other hand, the Kingdom is yet future; thus, there may be a distinction between the tribulation and the Kingdom.
Ryrie lays out three possible options as to whether the Tribulation is a dispensation in its own right. The first option is that the dispensation of Law is resumed, but of the verity of this option he is not convinced. It is true that an Israeli nation will build a Temple, and they will institute a sacrificial system. Those things in themselves, however, do not make a dispensation. One passage that is used to support this view is Daniel 9, which describes the 70 weeks that are appointed for Israel. Sixty-nine weeks are fulfilled, and the 70th is yet future. It should be noted, though, that the 70 weeks do not make a dispensation either. The first 69 weeks were part of the dispensation of Law—in fact, a small part of it. Moreover, if Christ completed the dispensation of the Law, then it does not seem reasonable that it would be resumed in the future.
Ryrie leans toward the view that the Tribulation is actually the end of the dispensation of Grace. This view is plausible if the emphasis is on the Gospel itself and not on the Church. Ryrie believes that God’s managing principle during the current dispensation is grace. He also believes God is gracious in other dispensations; he believes that men and women are saved in every dispensation. Yet, when he reads the New Testament, he finds an overwhelming emphasis on grace. He sees this same grace extended into the Tribulation period. For though the Church is no longer on the earth, and in spite of the great tribulation upon all mankind, multitudes are coming to Christ as Savior. For this reason, the concept has some merit.
In contrast to the idea of grace as the managing principle, this work has proposed that the Church is the managing principle. If this is the case, then the dispensation of the Church must end at its Rapture, and the Tribulation must be part of something other than the present dispensation. If the Tribulation is its own dispensation, then it must meet the characteristics of a distinct dispensation as put forth in the “Introduction.”
First, the Tribulation period has a beginning. It begins when the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel. According to Daniel 9, the Antichrist will make a covenant of Peace with Israel at the beginning of the 70th week. It seems reasonable to assume that a short space of time will occur between the Rapture and the making of the covenant. The Antichrist will need some time to set himself up as a world ruler. After doing so, he will probably give to Israel a piece of land, make a covenant of Peace with them, and allow them to build a temple. In doing these things, the Jews will be deceived into thinking that the Antichrist is really the Messiah (See Ezekiel 34, 37).
Second, revelation will be given during the Tribulation in addition to that which is already revealed in both the Old and New Testament. Half way through the Tribulation, many of the Jews will be saved and will speak in tongues and prophesy (Joel 2). There will be 144,000 preachers sent out to preach to the nations around the world (Rev. 7) as well as the two witnesses (Rev. 11). Though there will be revelation, the question remains, does it speak to a new managing principle and a new responsibility?
Third, just as the Tribulation has a marked beginning, it also has a marked ending—that is the Coming of Christ and the Judgment. Revelation 19 describes Jesus as descending to earth from heaven to finally end the rule of the Antichrist on earth. Similarly, Daniel prophecies of the Kingdom of God that will destroy the kingdoms of men. The end of the Tribulation is demarcated by the coronation of Jesus as the King of the Jews.
Last, is God managing the affairs of mankind on earth in a new and unique way? If so, what are man’s new responsibilities? It is possible that the ruling principle is judgment or tribulation itself. After all, during the first half of the Tribulation, God’s wrath is poured out upon Israel. Once they repent and turn to God by faith, God turns his wrath toward the Gentiles. Even though he protects his people, there will be a great number of martyrs also. Thus, tribulation would characterize God’s managing principle. This leaves man’s responsibility, perhaps best described in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
One other view is possible. Similar to Ryrie’s view that the Tribulation is the end of the dispensation of the Church, it could be the beginning of, or the transition to the dispensation of the Kingdom. Two reasons support this view. First, the message of the witnesses and angels is the gospel of the Kingdom which parallels the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus himself. The second reason is the close tie in Old Testament prophecies of the Day of the Lord and the Kingdom. In some cases, both are inferred by the phrase, “Day of the Lord.” Therefore, the empasis on the Kingdom during the period of time could tie the Tribulation to the Kingdom sufficiently. In this case, the Tribulation would not be its own dispensation.