WHAT IS THE TRIBULATION? (1)
Prophecy Series ❧ Part 8
For the last number of weeks now we’ve been working our way through a series of messages on Bible prophecy. We’ve looked at a number of significant future events in which the Bible has a great deal to say. We looked at the rapture, a time when the Bible says Christ will descend in the clouds and call His Church to be with Him. We looked at the Judgement Seat of Christ. This is the final judgment for all Christians. No one will be there who is has not turned from their sins and placed their trust in Christ as their personal Savior. The Judgment Seat of Christ will not be concerned with our sins but rewards for what we have done well. That means this is not a fearful judgment of sin for the Christian. We all run our own race obedience. You will not be compared to how others lived, what gifts, talents, or abilities they had. It will be a day of great amazement, celebration, and I think disappointment for those who didn’t take their obedience to Christ serious enough. To be clear, we will all stand before God knowing we are completely loved, forgiven, justified, and accepted as God’s forever children all because of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next, we looked at the Marriage of the Lamb, the marriage made in heaven. God tells us one day there is going to be a wedding in heaven that is going to be absolutely breath-taking. It is the next event for the Church after the Judgment Seat of Christ.
After that, we came back to what’s going to take place on planet Earth. The Bible tells us that sometime following the rapture of the Church a great leader will emerge on the world’s scene. He goes by more than two-dozen names in the Bible, but his best-known name is the Antichrist. He will usher in a time of great world-wide peace and economic prosperity. One of his greatest achievements will be bringing peace to the Middle East. The world will praise and adore him. He will make a seven-year peace covenant with the nation of Israel only to renege on it three-and-one-half years into it. He will then turn against Israel attempting to destroy it. The time in which the Antichrist makes his appearance as the world ruler is known in the Bible as the Tribulation. (Jesus) For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will (Matthew 24:21). We’re going to look at this unparalleled time of history today. Someone described the message I gave last week as a “meat and potatoes” message. I hope you’re hungry and I hope you like meat and potatoes, because we’re in for more today!
Studying the Tribulation reminds me of opening a pressurized container of Pillsbury dough biscuits. The direction warn: For safe opening, point can ends away from you and others. It’s a little unnerving when you start taking off the wrapper because you never quite know when the can is going to burst open with a sudden “pop!” And you wonder, “How did they get all those biscuits in that little container?” The same is true when it comes to the seven-year Tribulation. God has packed more into seven years than we could even imagine. I’m going to try to unpack the Tribulation for you two messages. If you feel a little jumpy during this time it’s because the contents of the Tribulation are under pressure. 1) What is the Tribulation? 2) What are the 70 Weeks of Daniel? Next week we’ll look at: six more questions regarding the Tribulation.
I. What is the Tribulation? In simple terms, the Tribulation is an unparalleled seven-year period of time in which God will pour out His wrath on a sinful and disobedient world. Jesus said it will be a unique time of suffering, pain, distress, hardships like the world has never seen or will see again. More at space in the Bible is given for this seismic event than the 1,000-year kingdom of Christ, Heaven, Hell, or any other subject outside of our salvation in Christ and His second coming. To put it in perspective, the book or Revelation devotes 13 whole chapters to it (Rev. 6-19). Jesus gives a Readers Digest version of it Matthew 24-25. It’s described forty-nine times in the Old Testament and some fifteen times in the New Testament.
A. It is described by various names in the Bible. 1. Great Tribulation. A great tribulation, such has not occurred since the beginning of the world (Matthew 24:21). A few verses later Jesus refers the whole seven years as the Tribulation (Matt. 24:29). 2. A time of distress. A time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time (Daniel 12:1). 3. Jacob’s distress. It is the time of Jacob’s distress (Jeremiah 30:7). 4. The Day of the Lord. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). 5. The seventieth week of Daniel. He (Antichrist) will make a firm covenant with the many for one week (Daniel 9:27).
B. Three observations. 1) These prophecies were given to the nation of Israel about the nation of Israel. Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city (Daniel 9:24). Now these are the words which the Lord spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah (Jeremiah 30:4). It is the time of Jacob’s distress (Jeremiah 30:7). It’s clear in the Bible Israel is going to be centerstage in the Tribulation. Some wonder where the Church is going to be during this time. It will be in Heaven with Christ! The book of Revelation devotes 13 chapters to the Tribulation. The nation of Israel is mentioned 26 times (Rev. 4 18). The Church, on the other hand, is mentioned some 17 times in Rev. 1-3 but is totally absent in chapters 4-18. The next time the church is mentioned is when she returns with Christ to earth having already been in heave with Him (Rev. 19:7). 2) These prophecies are yet future. A great tribulation, such has not occurred since the beginning of the world (Matthew 24:21). A time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time (Daniel 12:1). Some believe the Tribulation the Bible talks about has either already happened (when the Temple was destroyed in 70AD by the Romans) or they believe it is not a literal event but figurative. I do not believe these events have already taken place for the simple reason the Bible makes it very clear both in the OT and NT that the Tribulation will bring the whole world to its knees, not just Israel. Revelation 3:10 Jesus says the hour of testing, the Tribulation, will come about on the whole world.
Second, I believe it will be a literal event no different than other events God foretold. Past prophecy in the Bible is a blueprint to interpreting future prophecy. Just as God said He would gather Israel back to her own land in Ezekiel 37:21, He literally did! May 14, 1948 is incontrovertible evidence of God keeping His word literally. Just as God said He would rescue the nation of Israel from her Babylonian captivity through a world leader named Cyrus, who no one would even know of until more than a hundred years later, He did! (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). In the same way, God says there is going to be a literal Antichrist who will subdue the world with his tyrannical rule. The Tribulation cannot start until a literal Antichrist signs a seven-year peace covenant with the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:27). 3) These prophecies warn us to take God seriously. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night… let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:2,6). The reason Paul was writing the Thessalonians was because some people were saying the Day of the Lord (Tribulation) had already happened. In chapter two he tells them not to worry about it because the Day of the Lord would not happen until two things happen: 1) the rapture of the Church and 2) the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thess. 2:3). The rapture hasn’t happened yet, nor has the Antichrist been revealed. I know we’d like to believe some personalities are the Antichrist. But we can be sure when he makes his entrance, there will be no mistaking him!
The story is told of a man walking the beach who found a magic lamp that had washed up on the sand. He picked up and rubbed it. When a genie answered his rub, he told the man he could only make one wish. The man pondered for a moment, and then requested a copy of the stock exchange from the local newspaper, dated exactly one year later. In a puff of smoke, the genie was gone, and in his place a copy of the financial news. Gleefully, the man sat down to peruse his trophy. He could invest with absolute certainty knowing the winners a year in advance. As the paper fell to his lap, it turned over to the obituary column on the other side. At the top of the page a listing caught his eye – it was his own obituary!
God has not told you the future so that we will be caught off guard but so we will be prepared. The Tribulation will be seven literal years of unmistakable judgement on earth. We know it hasn’t started because the rapture hasn’t taken place, nor has the Antichrist been revealed.
Second, I want to look at a prophecy called the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. The Tribulation is part of what the Bible calls the 70 weeks of Daniel. We can’t really understand one without the other. If your mind is beginning to feel like a highly pressurized can of Pillsbury dough, don’t worry, you’re not alone!
II. What are the 70 Weeks of Daniel? The people of Israel have been in Babylonian captivity for almost 70 years. Daniel reads from the prophet Jeremiah 25:11 Israel’s captivity would last 70 years. Why were they held captive? Because of her long disobedience to God. He’d warned them if they did not walk in God’s ways, He would remove them from the land He gave them. Daniel knew God was about to release Israel from her long and painful captivity.
While Daniel was asking God to restore his people to their land (9:4-19), God gives him a vision through the angel Gabriel of Israel’s future. Israel would return to her land just as God promised, but there was more. He unveils Israel’s future and the timing of the first and second coming of the Messiah.
A. Six achievements. He tells him, Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people 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). The Hebrew word for weeks is the word “sevens”(שָׁבוּעַ – shevah). Daniel had been thinking in terms of years (70), he understood the sevens to be years as well. Gabriel says seventy-sevens or 490 years have been decreed for Israel. In those 490 years God says there are six things that will be accomplished. Three of them have to do with sin and form the basis for Christ’s work on the cross. The last three have to do with Christ’s Kingdom He will establish at His second coming.
The first three are the finishing of the transgression, the end of sin, and to make atonement for iniquity. These are God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer asking God to forgive his people, heal them from their self-inflicted suffering, and restore them to their land, restore their place of worship. God answers Daniel showing him He would finish their transgression (rebellion), make an end of sin, and make an atonement for their iniquity. God will do this. How? He did it through offering His Son Jesus Christ, Israel’s promised Messiah, on the cross to atone for their sin as well as the sins of the whole world (Isa. 53; 1 Jn. 2:2). Jesus alone is Israel’s sin-substitute and ours.
Even though Israel’s Messiah has made a way for Israel’s forgiveness, the nation is still living in rejection of her Messiah. When Israel rejected Christ, He warned, Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Matthew 23:38-39). At the end of the 490 years, at Jesus’s second coming, the Jews will open their hearts to Christ.
The final three achievements Gabriel tells Daniel – to bring everlasting righteousness, this is when Jesus establishes His Kingdom at His second coming. The world will be a place of restored righteousness; morality, honesty, justice, goodness will be global. It will not be temporary but everlasting. Second, to seal up the vision, or (to confirm the prophetic vision, NLT). All of the promises God has made in fulfilling His covenant for the nation of Israel will be fully realized (Dan. 7:14). And finally, to anoint the most holy place, the anointing or consecration of the millennial temple of the Lord (Ezek. 40-48).
Why are all these things listed? Why are they important? All of these things look forward to the establishment of Israel’s promised millennial rule here on earth. God has just given Daniel broad brushstroke view of Israel’s complete future. But, there is more to the vision. He breaks the seventy-sevens or 490 years down into three portions telling what will happen within each.
B. Seventy weeks divided in three portions. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off (Daniel 9:25-26). Gabriel tells him when Israel can expect the first coming of the Messiah the Prince. In these two verses he looks at two portions of the 490 years. He says from the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem there would be seven weeks (49 years) and sixty-two weeks (434 years). Both of these portions add up to 483 years. When you come to the end of those 483 years, Gabriel says, the Messiah will appear. But why didn’t he just say 490 years? Why break it down into two parts? One has to do with the immediate promise to restore Israel to her land and the second has to do with the coming of the Messiah. 1. 7 weeks (49 Years) When Israel returned to her homeland after the Babylonian captivity, the people were welcomed by the war-torn ruins of a grim and miserable city. 70 years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar had reduced the city to an unrecognizable pile of rubble. It took them 49 years to rebuild. God said it would be rebuilt in times of distress. It would not be easy. The going would be tough. There would be a great deal of opposition both from within and from without. God knew this and gave them the promise that no matter how impossible it may seem, Jerusalem would be rebuilt. God’s promises are always trustworthy no matter how grip or discouraging things may seem. The world, others, circumstances may let you down. God shows us again and again when we trust in Him, He will not let us down.
2. 62 weeks (434 years). Once the city was rebuilt, Israel had 434 years to prepare to for her Messiah. We know Israel was rebuilt. We know Jesus Christ came at the end of the 483 years. There’s no doubt here. Where Bible scholars are unsure is when did the prophetic clock start ticking letting them know exactly when Christ would appear? The date the agrees the most with both the Bible and history is 457BC when king Cyrus of Persia issued a decree to the people of Israel to rebuild their home. God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 9:9). Everything Gabriel told Daniel was fulfilled by Cyrus’s decree in 457BC. Not everyone agrees here. But we shouldn’t let the minor get in the way of the major. What did Gabriel tell Daniel? The Messiah would appear in less than 500 years! And, He did! It says, Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off (Daniel 9:26). 483 years following Daniel’s prophecy the Messiah Jesus Christ ministered for 3 ½ years and was crucified on the cross just as God told Daniel. Through Christ the sacrificial Lamb, God made atonement for the sins of Israel and the world.
Daniel’s prophecy reminds us Jesus Christ is our Savior and there is no other. Jesus had to appear before the destruction of the Temple (70AD) to keep within the promises of God. Jerusalem, the Temple, its walls had to be rebuilt before the Messiah appeared. The fulfillment of the first 483 years tells us a time of great tribulation still lies ahead for the Jews. This brings us to Daniel’s final week.
3. 1 week (7 years) 2,520. One part of Daniel’s vision remains to be fulfilled – the 70th week, the
2,520 days of God’s unparalleled judgement, the Tribulation, that lies ahead for planet Earth. Why didn’t it follow the first 483 years? For a couple of reasons. First, six prophetic achievements Daniel outlined in 9:24 haven’t been fulfilled. The Jews are still in rebellion against Christ. They are still caught up in their sins. They refuse to accept God’s atonement through Christ for their sin. Christ has not established His millennial reign as King, the most holy has not been anointed.
This leaves a gap between the first 483 years and the final 7. We might be uncomfortable with this until we understand prophetic gaps are not uncommon in biblical prophecy. God often showed His prophets a sweeping view of future events and then presented them as though they would happen one after the other without any interruptions since that’s how they appeared. Jesus did this when He started His ministry reading from Isaiah 61:1-3 (Luke 4:18-19). He read the first verse which described what He would do in His first coming; preaching to the poor, proclaiming freedom to the captives, recovering the sight of the blind, setting the oppressed free. Then, He stopped reading in the middle of the quote of Isaiah because the rest of the quote had to do with His second coming.
Jesus shows us understanding prophecy is like looking down a mountain range seeing one mountain top after the other. It seems they are all pressed together without any gaps. But in reality, they’re separated by unseen valleys. We are in the final range of mountains between two mountain tops – Jesus’s first coming and His second coming. If were traveling, I’d say we’ve nearly reached the end of this final great valley known as the Church age and are quickly approaching the second coming of Christ. Our eyes are lifted up taking in the ascending mountain in front of us. We are looking forward to the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The next great event on God’s prophetic calendar is the rapture. In the meantime, the world-stage is going to continue to rapidly be set for the appearing of the Antichrist. A one world government will eventually form giving him his que to rule the world. Once he rises to power, he will sign a seven-year covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27). Then, the most concentrated time of agony, suffering, and torment unlike anything the world has ever known or will ever know will occur known as the Tribulation.
The Bible tells us the only way of deliverance, the only rescue is to place our trust in Christ as our Savior and Lord. To humbly turn from our sins and ask Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Lord. Have you trusted Christ?
Next week we’re going to unpack five more questions about the Tribulation: 1) What are the events of the Tribulation? 2) What is the purpose of the Tribulation? 3) Who are the 144,000 witnesses? 4) Who are the two witnesses? 5) What is the Great Tribulation?