WHAT IS THE TRIBULATION? (2 of 2)
Prophecy Series ❧ Part 9
We are continuing our series on biblical prophecy. People have different reactions when you talk about the future. Some become visibly nervous and afraid. Some are irritated. Others are intimidated. Some panic. Some get excited. One thing is certain, no one is neutral. Talking about the future is like talking about politics: Everyone has an opinion.
One of my favorite stories is of a man who was hitchhiking his way across the US. He was not a follower of Jesus. Right about the time the sun was beginning to set and the skies were promising a serious rainstorm a car swerved over, the door flew open, and he heard the driver say, AHop in.@ The man hopped in, slammed the door and they took off. While his eyes were adjusting to the fading light of day, he could barely see the words of a sticker plastered on the dashboard in front of him. They said, AWarning, in event of Christ=s return, this driver will disappear; this car will self-destruct.@ Then in bold, red letters, four final words: AYou better get ready.@ Years later, the man recalling the experience said he felt spooky when he read those words. AI didn’t know whether to write my will, pray, or jump! But I remember doing two things. First, I kept my door unlocked (all the good that was going to do); and second, I engaged the driver in nonstop conversation. I figured he wouldn’t=t suddenly disappear if we kept on talking together.@ Isn’t it funny how the driver looked at Christ=s coming as a secure comfort but the hitchhiker saw it as something spooky? When it comes to the future no one is neutral.
A number of weeks ago we began looking at the future through the lens of the Bible. God talks a lot about the future in the Bible. Only God can speak with authority about the future. I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, >>My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10, NAS). God tells us the future because only He can. He does so because He loves us and wants us to be prepared. God wants us to be ready.
This morning we’re going to look at a period of time in the world’s future commonly known as the Tribulation. More space is given to this topic in the Bible than Heaven, Hell, the thousand-year reign of Christ or any other subject outside of salvation and the promise of Christ second coming. It is mentioned or described at least 49 times in the Old Testament and 15 in the New Testament. Considering the importance the Bible gives to this topic, I think it is fair to say God wants us know about it.
The word itself comes from the Greek thlipsis. It carries the idea of a great crushing weight like a huge millstone crushing a grain of flour. The Tribulation will be a time of great distress and suffering caused by a great crushing weight smashing, grinding, pounding down on it. The Bible tells us we will always have trouble in life. How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! (Job 14:1, NLT). Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward (Job 5:7, NAS). However, the Tribulation will be a concentrated time of trouble unlike the world has ever known. Jesus said 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 ever will (Matt. 24:21). Why is this going to happen? When a culture lives in rebellion against God perverting justice and morality, calling right wrong and wrong right, celebrating evil and punishing good, He will bring swift and certain judgment. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Gal. 6:7).
In a book called “Global Warning,” the late author Tim Lahaye captured the heart of what many in the world are feeling: The world is in serious trouble, and everyone knows it. Something ominous is about to happen. Even the most powerful people on earth sens that we’re running out of time. Never before in all of human history has the world seemed so vulnerable to disaster and at a loss for a workable solution to the world’s problems. Despite today’s amazing technological advances, increasing prosperity, and growing number of opportunities for a better life, many people readily admit to a growing sense of unease about the future. In fact, most would agree we are living in one of the most precarious, chaotic, and even dangerous times in history (LaHaye and Hindson, “Global Warning” p.5). Few, if any, honestly doubt that we’re living in unparalleled times. This morning we’re going to look at six questions about the Tribulation.
I. What is the purpose of the Tribulation?
A. For Israel. Looking at the time of the Tribulation, Zechariah the prophet declares, It will come
about in all the land, “Declares the Lord, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God (Zechariah 13:8-9). There will be a time when Israel will not be able to depend on her powerful military defenses or another nation. There will be no help. The nation will suffer great loss. Her people will be completely defenseless and have no where to turn but to God. When they cry out to Him, He will hear them and rescue them. God says, I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn (Zech. 12:10). Jesus said this is when they will see Jesus. 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!” (Matt. 23:39).
B. For Gentiles. This will be a time in which God will punish the Gentile nations for their rebellion against God, rejecting their only Savior Jesus Christ, and for their persecution of God’s people. Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger (Isaiah 13:11-18). The Bible says they will all be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thess. 2:12).
C. For Satan. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9). Satan and His cohorts, the Antichrist, the False Prophet will be unmasked. The world will see past his disguise as the world’s savior and see him for who he really is, the father of lies, the murderer, the thief, the deceiver. He (Satan) has only a short time (Revelation 12:12) The devil…was thrown into the lake of fire (20:10).
When Adolf Hitler made his rise to power in Nazi Germany many believed his assuring words of peace and tolerance. He spoke of a “Positive Christianity” convincing many he was a friend of Christianity. The majority of churches and church leaders trusted him to their own dismay. Hitler could not hide his evil, nor can Satan.
D. For Believers. After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10, see 14). The Tribulation will be both the greatest suffering on earth as well as the greatest revival. God’s judgments will punish those who’ve hardened their hearts toward God and move others to repentance and faith. Many who refuse to believe now will experience God’s judgment and turn to Him in repentance. God often allows trouble in our lives to get our attention and turn us to Him.
E. For God. My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10). When Moses came to Pharaoh asking him to let God’s people go, he mocked God asking, Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice…? (Ex. 5:2). In a series of ten plagues God crippled Egypt and brought Pharaoh to his knees. God showed Pharaoh who He is. During the Tribulation God will unleash 21 judgments on Earth over a period of 2,520 days bringing the world to its knees. Psalm 2 warns the world and its rulers, Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:10-12). The world will know who God is and every knee will bow, and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10).
II. What are the events of the Tribulation? The book of Revelation provides a detailed list of the order of events that will take place in chapters 6-19. We don’t have time to walk through all of events. But a brief overview shows us there are going to be a series of twenty-one judgments that will unfold in three parts: the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. Each of these three parts contain seven judgements making a total of twenty-one. The main thread that weaves all of these judgements together is God’s wrath. Each judgment is like the advancing pains of childbirth. Each one is more intense than the one before.
III. Who are the 144,000 witnesses? And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (Revelation 7:4). These are the “bondservants” of God who will have a special seal on their foreheads distinguishing them as belonging to God and under His protection. Those that follow the Antichrist will have a seal or a mark as well. It will be on their right hand or their forehead showing their allegiance to Satan (Rev. 13:16). The mark on the 144,000 will have the mark of God on them. By the way, just to be clear, the 144,000 are not the Jehovah’s Witnesses! Nor are they the Church. Revelation makes it very clear the 144,000 are a select group of the greatest most fearless Jewish evangelists the world will ever see. Revelation 7:4-8 tell us there will be 12,000 evangelists from every tribe of Israel. The only tribe missing is the Dan. Some believe this is because Dan was the tribe that introduced Israel into idolatry. The 144,000 will be pure in their morality and completely committed to following Christ (14:4). They are under the special protection of God (7:3) and are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world throughout the seven years of the Tribulation. Their impact for Christ on the world will no doubt be much of the reason a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues will be saved (Rev. 7:9).
IV. Who are the two witnesses? During the second half of the Tribulation God is going to raise up two powerful witnesses who will minister in Jerusalem during the city’s darkest hour. John is told in Revelation 11, And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3). Just as Satan will have the Antichrist and the False Prophet, so God will raise up two witnesses with supernatural power to counter Satan’s minions. They will be protected by God and serve as a threat to a world gone mad with evil. Anyone who tries to harm them fire will flow out of their mouths devouring their enemy (Rev. 11:5). They will have the power to withhold rain from the land while they are prophesying, turn the waters into blood and strike the earth with plagues at will (Rev. 11:6).
Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet will not be able to withstand them until God withdraws His protection which He does at the end of their 1,260 days of ministry. They will be struck down by the Antichrist, the beast and the world will throw a huge party sending gifts to one another. For three and one-half days no one will touch their fallen bodies. CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC and every news channel in the world will broadcast their slain bodies for the world to see. Then, after three and one-half days, God will resurrect them back to life. They will stand on their feet and the world will be shaken to the core with fear. God will call them to Heaven where they will be taken up into the sky. A great earthquake will take place destroying a tenth of Jerusalem.
Many have wondered who the two witnesses are. Some have said it is Moses and Elijah, since their ministries parallel the two witnesses in a number of ways. Both Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in His transfiguration (Matt. 17:12). Enoch has been a candidate as well since he like Elijah never died. The bottom line is God doesn’t us. Whoever they are, everyone will know when they show up.
V. What is the “Great Tribulation”? Most believe what pulls the trigger starting the seven-year Tribulation is when the Israel signs a seven-year peace covenant with the Antichrist (Dan. 9:27). But halfway through those seven years things rapidly go from awful to really awful. Jesus says Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:15-16). Jesus is talking about the new temple in Jerusalem that will be built at the beginning of the Tribulation. Three and one-half years into the seven year covenant the Bible says the Antichrist will set up an image of himself to be worshiped (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:14-15). This is the abomination of desolation Jesus spoke about. The Antichrist will take his seat in the temple and demand worship as though he were God. When this happens, Jesus says flee! The Antichrist starts the Tribulation by signing the covenant and he starts the Great Tribulation when he defiles the temple setting up an image of himself to be worshiped. At the same time, the seven bowls of God’s judgment are poured out in rapid and intensifying succession (Rev. 16). God’s wrath intensifies so much that Jesus says,Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Matthew 24:22). In other words, if the final three and a half years didn’t end, no one survive.
VI. Who will survive the Tribulation? When Jesus said the Tribulation would unlike any horrific experience the world has ever known, He was right. As many as two-thirds of the world’s population of Jews will be decimated by the Antichrist somewhere within three and one-half years (Zech. 13:8). Hitler exterminated more than six million Jews, one third their population in nine years (Jonathan Bernis, A Rabbi Looks At the Last Days, p. 124.). In the fourth seal of judgment, one fourth of the world’s population will be destroyed. In the sixth trumpet, another third will be destroyed. That’s more than half of the world’s population in just two judgments! That’s a lot of death! When the bowls of judgment start being poured out on what’s left of the world, it seems no one is going to survive. For those who wonder if we’re in the Tribulation today, they need to read the book of Revelation.
What about those who do survive? In Matthew 25 Jesus says at His Second coming He is going to set in judgment over all the nations. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “All the nations will be gathered before Him (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus describes two kinds of people who will stand before His judgement seat, sheep and goats. He is going to separate them placing the sheep at His right and the goats at His left. The sheep, believers, will enter the millennial kingdom while the goats, unbelievers, will be cast into eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).
Years ago, while we were going to college, I started a small Bible study in the apartments where we lived. There were just four of us, a mother and her two sons in their late teens. Their elderly grandmother lived in the apartment as well. Every time we met to study the Bible the grandmother would quietly disappear to her room. She never closed her door completely but kept it part way open. None of them were Christians, but they wanted to study the Bible. I shared from the Gospel of John who Jesus is and why He came to give His life for sinners. Each time we met they were excited to learn more about Jesus. And each time we met the grandmother would disappear to her room leaving the door part way open.
The night came when I knew they understood who Jesus is and why He came. I asked them if they wanted to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. Their faces lit up with excitement, “Yes, we want to trust Christ!” As began praying, I heard footsteps softly coming down the hallway. As I looked up, the grandmother knelt down in prayer beside her family to trust Christ. She’d been listening the whole time! After we prayed, I was able to talk with her. The whole family was thrilled beyond belief!
Less than a few weeks later the grandmother was rushed to the hospital. The doctors said it didn’t look good. She slipped into a coma quickly and passed away a short time later. She was ready. Graciously spoke to her in her last days. It was late, but not too late. She was ready. Are you ready? Do you know where you will spend eternity?