The Great Tribulation

Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation," spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be Great Tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.—Matthew 24:15–21

As we've seen in Chapter 4, the placing of the "abomination of desolation" represents the halfway mark in the Antichrist's seven-year reign. Therefore, Jesus is here describing the beginning of the last three and a half years of the current epoch of the earth. In the parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke we see some more details of the events occurring at this moment.

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.—Luke 21:20–24

Jerusalem is surrounded and occupied by the armies of the Antichrist, and Jesus basically says that those in the vicinity should run for their lives. Obviously it is not a peaceful occupation, and most likely it is the culmination of a war.

In Revelation 11:1–2 we read the following: "Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, 'Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.'" John is measuring a temple that seems to be a different one than the one described earlier in Revelation, for the previous temple was in the heavenly realm. This one has at least the outer court given to the Gentiles and they have it and the city of Jerusalem for 42 months, which is most likely the time of the Tribulation. It is also likely that this corresponds to the "times of the Gentiles" of the earlier passage in Luke. And it is a fair guess that the temple John was measuring is actually the one that is going to be rebuilt at Jerusalem.

The Antichrist, from what we have already covered, has apparently been mortally wounded and has literally come back from the dead. But now he is not just a pawn of Satan, he is totally possessed by him. He sets up both his image and his throne in the temple environs. All who will not worship him and take his infamous Mark are then declared beyond the law and are marked for extermination. Although all in this category are to be hunted down and killed, it appears from Revelation 12—the vision of the woman and the dragon—that those who are Christians are particularly singled out:

"Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the Devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time." Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.—Revelation 12:12–13,17

This sounds terrible for Christians—and certainly when compared with the temporal might of the Antichrist and his armies and his massive government apparatus, we might not seem to stand a chance—but we have one almighty ace up our sleeves: Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, He may at this time be unseen, but He will be fighting on our side and that means we will be the ultimate victors. We will come through this period on top in the end. It might look like we are losing at times, and we will suffer casualties, but in the end we will win, because the battle is Jesus' and He always wins.

As the wise Jewish teacher Gamaliel said to the Jewish leaders when they planned to persecute the early Christians, "If it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God" (Acts 5:39). The apostle John, one of the very people Rabbi Gamaliel was warning against harming, echoed this when he wrote: "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4–5). Also Paul, who had studied under Gamaliel, again reminded us of the inevitability of our victory when he said: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:57–58).

However, for the formal, organized denominations with their big church buildings and economic and political clout, the handwriting is on the wall. Daniel prophesied of their troubles when he said, "I was watching; and the [Antichrist] was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them. … He … shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and … the saints shall be given into his hand. … He shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people. … And when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished" (Daniel 7:21,25; 8:24; 12:7).

Why would God allow this?—Because it is good for His people. It purifies His Church by driving them to Him in desperation. It "makes them white," as Daniel was told by the angelic messenger (Daniel 12:10). Whenever persecution has come to Christians, it has always resulted in revival in the long run, with believers drawn closer to the values of Christianity. The Bible not only promises "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," but also "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose" (2 Timothy 3:12; Romans 8:28 KJV).

Even though the Antichrist will be allowed to physically overcome the organized temporal power of the Christian denominations, he will not and cannot overcome Christians spiritually. The Lord says, "And they overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Revelation 12:11). The only power they're going to have left will be God's power. "Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Romans 5:20). In the world's darkest hour of greatest iniquity, many Christians are going to supernaturally, miraculously witness and shine brighter than ever before. "For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you" (Isaiah 60:2).

Furthermore, the Bible promises that during this time "the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. And those of the people who understand shall instruct many" (Daniel 11:32–33). This is very important because the raison d'être for the Lord's people during this momentous and trouble-filled time is to witness to others and teach them and instruct them as to what is going on. The Antichrist regime will be horrible and oppressive, and many people are going to hate it and will want to know what they can do about it. Those who know God will be in their element because they will have multitudes of hungry hearts to win and teach the good news of God's Word and Jesus' imminent return.

Many are going to be more receptive than ever then, just like many are now in times of personal trial, emergency, catastrophe, illness, or accident. A lot of people are going to believe then, and many are going to need salvation and need the good news. Those who understand from the Bible what's happening and what's going to happen will be a great encouragement to millions of people throughout the earth.

It costs something to witness, and in that day it is definitely going to cost some Christians who "know their God" their lives. The Antichrist is going to try to wipe them all out because they'll be telling the truth and exposing him. They're going to be "instructing many," warning them of who he really is. And he and his forces are going to be furious.

But if you love the Lord, don't fear the Tribulation. God's a much greater enemy to the Antichrist forces than they are to you. "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). As His Word has said, "It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you" (2 Thessalonians 1:6).

Powerful men and women of God, just like the ancient prophets and prophetesses of old, are going to be God's leaders and have supernatural, miraculous powers to protect and defend their flocks and followers and help them survive to the very end.

Two exceptional witnesses are mentioned in the following passage in Revelation 11:

And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days [the Tribulation period], clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.A And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
Now when they finish their testimony, the Beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
Now after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from Heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they ascended to Heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.—Revelation 11:3–12

Certainly the power of these two witnesses is awesome. But it is not unprecedented. Elijah called down fire from Heaven and caused it not to rain for three years in Israel (2 Kings 1:9–15; 1 Kings 17:1; 18:1); Moses and Aaron brought plagues on their oppressors and caused the waters to be turned to blood (Exodus 7:17–21; 9:13–26). So these powers have been available to God's chosen before, and they will be available again in the Endtime.

It's going to be a time of great victory and marvelous testimony so that the whole world will hear. Multitudes of believers are going to survive right until the very coming of the Lord. So there are going to be many people still functioning for the Lord and surviving and living by faith and preaching the Gospel. There are going to be millions of them still alive to see the Lord come.

And although there's going to be the most hell the world has ever known, there's also going to be the most heavenly power and defense and help and protection. It's going to be a time of great victory over the forces of Satan and tremendous triumph over the anti-Christ wicked. The Tribulation is not going to be a rampaging victory for the Devil. Supernatural, miraculous victories are going to be won over him and all of his powers. Don't think that God's people are all going to be cowering, hunted victims. Many will be mightily empowered to fight and battle in the defense of the Gospel right up to the end, alongside all the forces of Heaven, aided by the curses and plagues that God unleashes on the wicked.

Nevertheless, it will be a time of persecution, and even the two witnesses lose their lives as martyrs. Daniel explains: "Yet for many days [the people of God] shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time" (Daniel 11:33–35). Many Christians in countries that are closed to the Gospel already experience these kinds of conditions where they are persecuted and informers weasel their way into their fellowships, and some believers even die for their faith. But these conditions do have an end.

Aside from getting a little help from some quarters, there is a lot of help forthcoming from the spirit world. Revelation chapters 8–10 relay what will happen when the Seven Trumpets of the Tribulation are sounded in Heaven and seven mighty and fearsome angels begin to execute the judgments of God on the Antichrist's empire.

The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter. Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night. And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"
Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.—Revelation 8:7 to 9:4

Who are these ferocious insect-like creatures from the bottomless pit hurting and tormenting?—Those people on Earth who do not have the "seal of God" on their foreheads. Revelation chapter 7 describes how God had held back His avenging angels till those who were His servants on Earth had received this seal. We don't know what form this seal will take, although it seems to be a spiritual rather than an actual physical mark. One thing we do know is that those who receive it are His people, and they are not on the receiving end of these plagues. It is the followers of the Antichrist who are on the receiving end, those who are trying to persecute and kill the ones who refuse to worship the Beast. For all the trouble, pain, and hurt they try to inflict on those who love Jesus, it sounds like the Antichrist and his followers come off the worst for it.

The Lord set a precedent for this kind of thing way back when the children of Israel were held as slaves in Egypt, in the days of Moses. Moses demanded that pharaoh give the Israelites their freedom but pharaoh kept refusing. God, therefore, sent numerous plagues against Egypt because of pharaoh's recalcitrance. At least some of those plagues did not touch the land of Goshen, the area of Egypt where the Israelites lived (Exodus 9:26). And just as they were spared, we will also be spared much of the horror.

And they [the monster locusts] were not given authority to kill them [the Antichrist's followers], but to torment them for five months. And their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.—Revelation 9:5–6

These creatures have power to inflict pain with their stings for five months, and their victims will wish they could die but apparently can't.

The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months.—Revelation 9:7–10

Like much in the book of Revelation, this passage is cryptic; and although some have tried to explain exactly what these creatures are, it seems we won't really know until we actually see them. But the good thing is that if you have the seal of God in your forehead, you don't need to worry. And if you have Jesus in your heart and love Him and try to serve Him, then you qualify as a servant of God and you will have that seal. (See Appendix 3.)

Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great River Euphrates." So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.—Revelation 9:13–19

This sixth trumpet obviously has to do with war occurring during the period of Great Tribulation. What these horses with heads of lions and mouths that breathe fire are is for now a mystery. But it seems that the armies involved numbered 200 million, and the casualties in that war were a third of all mankind. That surely sounds like a time of great troubles or Great Tribulation. If ever there was an entity who glories in destruction and would love to see the world engulfed in a conflagration of the magnitude spoken of here, it is the Devil. And he will be in the thick of it in the person of the Antichrist.

Notes

A. Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, "What do you see?" So I said, "I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left." … Then I answered and said to him, "What are these two olive trees—at the right of the lampstand and at its left?" And I further answered and said to him, "What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?" Then he answered me and said, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." So he said, "These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth" (Zechariah 4:1–3, 11–14).

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared" (Mark 10:35–40).

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