Tribulation

First, the Good News!

Before we begin discussing the Tribulation period, I want to comfort all of you with the Good News! Christ will remove all born-again believers from the earth in an event known as the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54) BEFORE the Seven Year Tribulation Period Begins.

Great Salvation in the Great Tribulation

The Scriptures inform us that this age will climax with a chamber of horrors commonly known as the Tribulation. This seven year period of time will bring an unprecedented time of trouble for the whole world. (Note particularly Matthew 24:21; Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:2). There never has been, nor will there ever again, be a time like it.

Tribulation Terror

Most people, even those who are not believers in the Bible, have some knowledge of “Armageddon” and realize that the Bible talks about the earth ending with great catastrophes. While the Mayan prediction of the year being 2012 has come and gone, still many movies are made and TV shows created which have end times destruction as a theme.  But even these miss what the Bible says.

God’s wrath will be poured out in a most powerful way during those seven years. In giving us the basics of the judgments of God’s wrath, the Apostle John records, in Revelation, that there will be 19 specific judgments. These judgments are said to be “birth pains” indicating that after they begin they will grow worse and worse and closer together as the seven years proceed along.

This lets us know several basic points: (1) that the majority of judgments take place in the latter part of the Tribulation, and that (2) the last judgments will be worse than the initial ones. These 19 judgments will devastate the world. Body counts are given for 2 of the 19 judgments (the 4th Seal and the 6th Trumpet).

In these two judgments, 50% of the population of the earth dies.  But when we look closely at the rest of the judgments, it is quite clear that the death toll far exceeds 50%. We are probably not too far off by saying that 80-85% will perish.  So if the Tribulation begins with the population of the earth being 7 billion, then those that die under the wrath of God will be around 6 billion. All that in 7 years.

But death will also come at the hand of Satan. Satan will use the Great Harlot (Rev. 17) and the Antichrist (Rev. 13) to shed the blood of millions of God’s people. This incredible loss of human life coupled with unprecedented earthquakes (two of them that move the entire crust of the earth), burning of earth, destruction of the oceans and fresh water sources will make this the worst period in all of human history. It is no wonder that Jesus observed that unless God had limited this time to just 7 years no human being would be left standing (Matt. 24:22).

Tribulation Salvation

In spite of all this mayhem and destruction, judgment is really not the main reason for the Tribulation period. If all God wanted to do was judge evil men and nations, then he could do it in 7 minutes (such as with Sodom and Gomorrah). He would not need 7 years but could get His point across much quicker. But salvation of people is God’s great purpose and that does take some time. The gospel must be proclaimed and men hear it and then choose to respond to Jesus Christ or not.

Saving Israel. In His covenant promises to Abraham (and Abraham’s descendants) God declared that He would bring Israel into the New Covenant. This covenant deals with salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

In all the centuries since Jesus came the first time and died on the Cross, as a nation, Israel has never turned to Him. And yet Jesus was abundantly clear when He declared that He would not return to the earth again (the 2nd Coming) until Israel turned to Him in faith (Matt. 23:39).

Saving Israel is God’s first and primary order of business in the Tribulation. And He will accomplish this great goal as these Scriptures state with clarity.

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in: and thus ALL ISRAEL will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” Romans 11:25-27.

“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people (Israel) and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.”  Daniel 9:24

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you… I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25

Israel begins the Tribulation as an unbelieving nation, but that rapidly begins to change, probably as the 144,000 Jewish evangelists begin to make an impact. Jesus said that about half way through the Tribulation, Israel would begin to be persecuted “on account of My name” (Matt. 24:9).

Now Israel has been and continues to be persecuted by the gentile nations, but not because she has identified with the Lord Jesus Christ! The 144,000 (Rev. 7) along with the “two witnesses” (Rev. 11) apparently have a huge impact on the nation of Israel, so that by the end of the Tribulation “all” Israel has come to faith in Christ.

With the salvation of Israel, the Great King Jesus can now return. But before He does there are many more that need saving. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 12:3—“in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

Saving gentiles. In the Old Testament, it was always God’s plan to reach the gentile nations through Israel. The Israelites were to be a light to the gentiles. Unfortunately, they behaved badly and never really were that light bringing the knowledge of the Lord Jehovah to the nations. But that changes dramatically in the Tribulation. They will be a beacon light in that terribly dark period of time.

According to Revelation 7:9-14, millions upon millions from every nation will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. It is important to observe that these people (of Rev. 7) were saved during the Tribulation period and not during the ages of the church or some other time. And while they died for their faith, the number of them runs in the millions.

Some Concluding Thoughts

This short study should remind us that the Lord delights in saving people and is committed to doing that. Judgment is not what He delights in, but rather the regeneration of lost people. The Tribulation, while having terrible judgments, is primarily a time for salvation.

God will fulfill His commitment to save Israel, and Israel in turn will be the ones who spread the truth of God which results in so many gentiles coming to know Jesus.

Today God wants us to share the Good News about Jesus. And perhaps our obedience in this matter, will cause some in the Tribulation to come to Christ. Imagine if you shared the gospel with a person on Wednesday (and there is no response) and then the Rapture takes place on Thursday. The seed we planted could still bear fruit in those days of the Tribulation. God simply loves to save people.

Here Comes Trouble: The Time of Tribulation (Part 1)

Today people are going about their daily routines (as they should) but very few are giving serious thought to the great disaster that is coming upon this planet; the period commonly known as “the Tribulation.” And just like you cannot stop an earthquake from hitting, so no man can stop the Tribulation from taking place.

It will be an unprecedented time of trouble for earth’s inhabitants. Jesus, following several O.T. prophets, taught the unprecedented trouble of this time.

“…for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor every shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.”  Matthew 24:21-22

The Apostle Paul spoke of the sudden, devastating arrival of this period of time:

“While they (the unsaved world) are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pains upon a woman with child; and they will not escape.”  1 Thessalonians 5:3

The Scriptures have a large volume of material about this period of time and in this article, and several that will follow, our purpose will be to blend many of these passages together and attempt to present the order of events of the Tribulation period.  But before we do that, it is probably helpful to be reminded of several key facts.

Five Key Facts about the Tribulation Period

THE LENGTH OF THE TRIBULATION. From Daniel 9:24-27, we learn that this period of time will last for 7 years. However, the period is divided neatly into two part of 3½ years each. But the two halves, while equal in length, are not equal in the intensity of activity and judgments.

In fact, Jesus referred to the second half as “the Tribulation, the great one." In this study, however, we examine the three distinct parts of this period: the first half, half time and the second half.

THE CHURCH AND THE TRIBULATION. The true church (the body of Christ) will be removed out of the Tribulation period before it begins. It is not within the scope of this study to detail the reasons why the church is removed, but basically the church will not experience the “wrath of God”, and the entire 7 years is the wrath of God. And furthermore, this period is said to be dealing with the Covenant people of Israel.

THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF THE TRIBULATION. The main reason for having a Tribulation time is to bring God’s salvation to His people Israel. God made the New Covenant with Israel and they, as a nation, have never been brought into it, thus fulfilling God’s stated purpose of their salvation. After almost 2000 years, Israel nationally is no closer to their redemption.

But the Tribulation will change all that and God’s stated purposes will be fulfilled (Daniel 9:24; Jeremiah 31:31-34). It is this period of trouble that will cause Israel’s spiritual blindness to be removed and “all” Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:25-30).

THE SECONDARY PURPOSE OF THE TRIBULATION. Most often, when the Tribulation is discussed, it is the terrible judgments and destruction that are emphasized.  God will indeed deal with wicked men and nations who have turned their backs on His grace. It will be, as Jesus declared, the worst of times on this earth, unlike anything that has ever taken place.

It is so terrible that it is likely that upwards of 80% will die of those who entered this period of time. But we must remember that God does not need seven years to bring judgment on men (He does, however, need time to save men). He could execute His fierce wrath in a matter of seconds (as He did with Sodom, Gomorrah and the cities of the plain). But judgment is secondary to His work of saving millions of people during this time. But great will be the judgments upon the wicked.

SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY IN THE TRIBULATION. This will be a time in which occurs the greatest display of supernatural activity since the creation itself. The great miracles and sign events come from God and they also come from Satan and his forces.  (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thes. 2:8-10; Rev. 13:13; etc.).

The scriptures are quite clear that this is not “business as usual” on the planet. The outpouring of the supernatural will be breathtaking as God and Satan fight for the souls of men. It is unlikely that anyone will claim to be an atheist or an agnostic during the Tribulation period.

The great issue will not be “is there a god?” but rather will you believe and follow Him, or will you align yourself with the Antichrist and Satan. These are going to be very different days on planet earth.

Later, we will examine the people and events found in the first half of the time; and then our focus will turn to the game changing events at the mid-point of the Tribulation; and finally to view the last half, the “great Tribulation.”

It is good to be informed and make preparations for coming events.  And as with earthquakes, where we just don’t know exactly when they will occur, so it is with the Tribulation. And, yes, spiritual preparations need to be made and truth shared with those who right now face the prospect of entering this amazingly horrible period.

One of the emphases that Jesus made in concluding His prophetic discourse (Matt. 24 and 25) was on making personal preparations in light of these coming events. We would be wise to follow His advice.

Here Comes Trouble: The Time of Tribulation (Part 2)

Thanks to the History Channel and other such outlets, most people in this country are aware that there are many folks who believe that the world is going to end very badly. And so, sitting in front of their TV sets, they get regular doses of the Book of Revelation mixed liberally with Nostradamus, pseudo-scientists, UFO proponents and a wide variety of prophets and prophecies from all over the world.

In these "worldly" presentations, the Apostle John and his Revelation are presented as just one of many sources that are equal in authority. Bible believing Christians, however, recognize that there is only one authoritative source for understanding the future. The God given Scriptures reveal important, authoritative and detailed information about upcoming events.

To recap: the Tribulation period will last seven years; the true Church is removed from this time of God’s wrath; the main reason for the Tribulation period is to save Israel and many others; it is indeed a time of terrible judgment; and finally, the level of supernatural activity is unprecedented in all of human history.

The Tribulation of seven years has three distinct parts to it; the first half, the midpoint and the second half. Noting what happens in each part is important to our understanding of this coming time of trouble. Let's take a look at the first half; that is, the initial period of 3½ years.

Five Key Elements in the First Half of the Tribulation Period

THE NATION OF ISRAEL. It is abundantly clear from both OT and NT that the people of Israel must be back in their land when the events of the end times take place.

Ezekiel sees Israel’s restoration back to their land as the necessary prerequisite for their salvation (Ezek. 34-39). And he sees their return taking place over a period of time and a return that is observed by the nations of the world.

Daniel informs us that Israel returns to their OT Levitical worship system during the early days of the Tribulation which involves the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple (Dan. 9:24-27) and Paul places the Antichrist in that rebuilt temple in those days (2 Thess. 2:4).

This temple and its worship can only take place in Jerusalem. During the first years of the Tribulation, Israel has come back to the land but they do so as an unbelieving nation. Israel is restored geographically but not spiritually.

In His prophetic discourse, Jesus also places Israel in the land during those great and terrible days (Matt. 24:4-31). Many other prophets, like Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah, are clear that Israel will be in the land when the events of the end times occur. So, Israel has returned to the land but they have not returned to the Lord as the Tribulation begins to unfold.

THE “SUPER CHURCH”. Revelation 17 reveals the presence of a wealthy and powerful religious system during the first half of the Tribulation. She is said to be Babylon “the mother of harlots.” Babylon is synonymous with religion that is false. Harlotry is an OT concept (e.g. Hosea 4:10-11) which differs somewhat from our usual understanding of a prostitute.

In the OT, it speaks of Israel, the unfaithful wife of Jehovah. It looks at those who claim to have a relationship with the Lord God but are unfaithful to that relationship, going after other gods. This idea is transferred over to the NT in Revelation 17, leading us to suggest that this is the unfaithful, apostate “church.” It claims a relationship with the Lord but is terribly unfaithful to Him. The plural “harlots” suggests that it is an ecumenical system, made up of various religious groups which claim a loyalty to Christ.

Three basic facts are revealed about this system:

(1) It is very wealthy as is seen by her garments and the presence of gold and jewels.

(2) She is politically powerful as is seen by the fact that she rides the “beast” (i.e. she dominates the Antichrist). And

(3) She is the great persecutor of true believers in Christ, as is seen by her being “drunk with the blood of the saints.” This religious system will dominate early in the Tribulation but will be destroyed completely by the Antichrist and his followers at the midpoint of the Tribulation (17:16-17).

GOD’S JUDGMENTS. Jesus Messiah is given the scroll with the seals (Rev. 5) and He breaks the first seal (6:1). This initiates divine judgment in the Tribulation.

This, according to Jesus in Matthew 24:8, is the beginning of “birth pains.” Birth pains are used in both OT and NT to speak of God’s judgments. Birth pains have several features to them. (1) When they begin, they do not stop until the “birth” comes (in this case it is the “birth” of the great Messianic kingdom); (2) the pains increase in intensity as the time for birth draws closer; and (3) the amount of time between the pains gets shorter and shorter as the time for birth gets closer.

This is an accurate picture of the judgments in the Tribulation. The initial judgments are very painful for the world, but the last ones are far worse and there are more of them.

According to Revelation 6, a minimum of 25% of the world’s population will perish in these initial judgments. (If the population of the world is 7 billion, then close to 2 billion people die). And so, if this is just the start of the birth pains, it immediately becomes clear that the worst is yet to come.

THE SALVATION OF MANY. We noted in our first study that the main reason for this seven year period is to save people; first Israel and then a multitude of gentiles. The salvation of many begins in the first half as is seen by the tremendous numbers of saved martyrs in Revelation 7:9, 14.

Jesus declared that by the mid-point of the Tribulation many in Israel will be saved, being persecuted for “His names sake” (Matt. 24:9). It is reasonable to suggest that the famous 144,000 (Rev. 7 and 14) are saved during the early days of the Tribulation and become critical in the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world (Matt. 24:14). Many are saved in the first half, but even more will come to Christ Jesus in the second half. This time is a time for the battle for the souls of men.

THE ANTICHRIST. The man commonly called the Antichrist is certainly the dominant human figure during this period. He will arise out of a western nation (Dan. 7:7-8, 20-26) and be a prominent leader there. It is as a leader of a powerful nation that he enters into a covenant relationship with Israel, promising them his protection (Dan. 9:27).

When the Tribulation begins, he moves into action and will defeat three western nations which will lead to seven others submitting to him (Dan. 7). When the dust settles, he will be the ruler of a group of eleven nations. He will remain in this position as a dictator until the middle of the Tribulation. It would be well to remember Jesus powerful statement about this time in Matthew 24.

“…for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.”  (Matt. 24:21-22)

When we read such statements and learn of this coming time of trouble, most believers in Christ do believe that these things will take place. But while we “believe”, we often do not see them as relevant to life as we now live it.

It is good for us to recall what Jesus told His disciples about this time. After He got done detailing this coming time (Matt. 24 and 25), Jesus spent much more time encouraging His men to be prepared by serving Him. He warned them not to become complacent but to use these truths as motivators to living well for Him in the present.

And for us, it is the same. Life’s decisions, values and priorities need to be framed by the reality of future events; events which just might be closer than the man in front of his TV set watching the History Channel might imagine.

Here Comes Trouble: The Time of Tribulation (Part 3)

The coming Tribulation does have a first half and a second half. And those two halves are very different from one another because of the halftime events. Here, we will examine the events that take place at “halftime” which dramatically change this coming period of Tribulation.

As previously discussed, the first half of the Tribulation will include the following:

(1) the nation of Israel is back in their land though they remain largely in unbelief;

(2) there is a politically powerful, wealthy entity which is a false form of Christianity and which holds sway over the western world;

(3) the Antichrist rules over an eleven nation western confederacy;

(4) God’s “seal judgments” blast the earth causing a minimum of 25% of the world’s population to perish; and

(5) a time of great salvation takes place on the earth as people are faced with the truth of God as never before. There are four major events that take place at the half way point of the Tribulation which dramatically change this period of time. Recall that Jesus referred to the second half as the “Tribulation, the great one.” The following events bring about “the Tribulation, the great one.

The Nation of Israel. Israel is back in their land and the “temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:4) has been rebuilt with the result that the full Levitical worship system is back in place.

We can only wonder how Israel gets the temple mount back and what the role of the Antichrist might have been in returning it to them. But as Israel’s protector, he does what today seems impossible. All is well in Israel.

However, at the midpoint, the Antichrist breaks his agreement with Israel and turns from being their protector to being their persecutor.  He will terminate the Levitical system and will then require worship of himself (and Satan) alone.

We are told that “he takes his seat in the temple” and makes himself out to be God.  Jesus said that when this (along with the setting up of his image in the holy place) occurs, people need to flee Jerusalem because terrible persecution is coming immediately.

This “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15) is a key mid-Tribulation event. So Israel will go from being protected in the first half to being persecuted in the second half.  Things will be dramatically different in Israel because the seven year treaty is broken by Antichrist.

Satan's Removal from Heaven. While we do not fully understand why God allows Satan access to heaven, we know from the story of Job that He does. He appears there regularly.

But that changes half way through the Tribulation when an angelic war takes place in heaven (Rev. 12:7-12). Satan and his forces are defeated and they are forcibly removed from heaven and confined to the earth for 1260 days.

The strategic verse in the discussion is 12:12.

“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

This event is seen as that final wakeup call that alerts Satan to the fact that time is almost over for him. His response, in his rage, is to do as much harm to God’s people as he possible can.

The killing and destroying of God’s people is simply “off the chart” in the second half, making it the worst of times. Satan simply is now confined to the earth by God and no longer has the freedom that he once enjoyed. This makes him highly unhappy.

The Death and Return to Life of the Antichrist. At the midpoint of the Tribulation, the Antichrist is assassinated. This is clear from Revelation 13:3, 12 and 14 where he receives the wound of the sword (a violent death) and then returns to life.

Technically, he does not receive a resurrection body, but rather he is restored back to physical life.  (The word for “slain” is the same one used of the Lamb in Rev. 5:6, and no one doubts that Jesus actually died). The Antichrist has made a lot of enemies during the first half and someone is able to successfully take his life.

But shortly thereafter (I would guess about 3 days!) he returns to life, apparently God allowing such a thing. The result of this return to life is breathtaking. One can only imagine the messianic type claims he will make for himself.

The world immediately will begin to worship him and immediately he becomes ruler of the entire world (not just the western world).  He is revered by much of earth’s population. It seems that in Daniel 11 he takes up residence in Israel. (A logical place to be if one is claiming to be the messiah). He will engage in efforts to destroy God’s people and will be very successful in those efforts (Rev. 13:7).

The Termination of All Religions. Not only is the Levitical worship system of the Jewish people ended at the midpoint, but at this time the false form of Christianity is violently destroyed by the Antichrist (Rev. 17:15-17; 19:1-3).  Also, we would assume that at this time all religions of mankind are terminated by the Antichrist and the “false prophet” (Rev. 13:11-18; 19:20; 20:10).

The only legal religion in the world is the worship of Antichrist and Satan (Rev. 13:3, 4, 8, 12-15). This is a close as Satan gets to being “like God” and having creation worship him.

We, of course, do not know how many days are involved in these events coming to pass. However, these most likely will take place in a very tight sequence of events, and they will rock the world as few days have. The sudden, dramatic series of events will reshape life in the Tribulation.

But obviously the Lord God knows about all this and is not caught off guard by any event, and this truth will fortify the resolve of believers in those difficult days.

And for us, it is important to remember that events in our days do not blindside the Lord either. He knows all things and is ready to shepherd us through them for His glory and for our benefit. What a “good shepherd” He is.