The Tribulation (cont.)
The disciples held a unique dual place in the purpose of God. When instructed in the upper room they represented the church of which they make up the foundational layer (Eph 2.20). Here, privately instructed by the Lord, they represented a future company of godly Jews during the Tribulation.
The analogy of childbirth graphically portrays intense pain and sorrow. Just as labour pains intensify, so the suffering of humanity will grow. The Saviour described the first three and one half years of the seven year tribulation period as "merely the beginning of birth pangs" (Mt 24.8, NASV). He delineated some of the signs that would become apparent during this time.
Warfare (Mt 24.6-7; Lk 21.9)
International war and commotions will dominate news broadcasts. Though this will terrify men generally, believers will understand these as but warning signs "the end is not yet".
Calamities (Mt 24.7; Mk 13.8; Lk 21.11)
Widespread natural disasters, in the form of "famines and plagues and earthquakes" (ALT), will heighten mens fears.
Deception (Mt 24.4,5,11; Lk 21.8)
This will gather pace. False Christs and prophets will abound. This deception will culminate in the man of sin and his false prophet. During the turmoil of the first three and one half years this man of sin (2 Thess 2.3) will rise through the ranks of humanity and establish himself as a political power. He is a dark and sinister figure who has cast his shadow on the pages of Scripture. He has been described as the "little horn" (Dan 7.8) and "the king of fierce countenance" (Dan 8.23) who honours the god of forces (Dan 11.38). A world that is falling apart under the heavy hand of Gods judgment will succumb to this ultimate lie, receiving and worshipping the beast (Rev 13.4). Everyone, apart from Gods elect, will be deceived. This antichrist "for a brief season shall wield almost unlimited power over the nations of the world".1 Antichrist will achieve his swift ascent by aligning himself with a corrupt religious organization (Rev 17.3-5) and entering into a treaty with the Jewish nation. This covenant will probably include promises to rebuild a Jewish temple and reactivate their sacrificial system (Dan 9.27). A godly Jewish remnant will not, however, approve this covenant.
Persecution (Mt 24.9-10; Mk 13.9; Lk 21.12-19)
They, of whom the disciples were representative, will suffer severe persecution. They will be afflicted, killed, and hated by all men for the name of Christ. Close friends and family members will betray them. Men will lay their hands on them. They will be interrogated before counsels, beaten in the synagogues, and brought before rulers as witnesses to Christ. And though many will be murdered, not one hair of their heads will perish without God allowing it. That is to say, they are totally invincible so long as it is Gods will that they live. This violent opposition will be comparable to the experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Though cast into a burning fiery furnace it could be said of them that these were "men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them" (Dan 3.27). How will Jewish believers respond to such violent opposition? They need not premeditate their answers, knowing that Christ, through His Holy Spirit, will give them irresistible wisdom. They will endure to the end (Mt 24.13). The sheer intensity of the suffering (Mt 24.9-10), the plausibility of the deception (Mt 24.11), and the allure of sin lawlessness will abound (Mt 24.12) will, however, see to it that everyone, apart from Gods elect, will defect from the faith (Mt 24.9-13).
Evangelism (Mt 24.14; Mk 13.10)
God always has a testimony. This dark period in the worlds future is no exception. The everlasting gospel will be preached throughout the world, both by natural and supernatural means. One hundred and forty-four thousand believing Jews will courageously serve the God of heaven (Rev 7.1-8). Gods two witnesses will prophecy (Rev 11.3-6). An angel will herald forth the everlasting gospel (Rev 14.6). Even a world fiercely opposed to God will be granted further opportunity to repent. But "then shall the end come" (Mt 24.13), the day of salvation will finish (2 Cor 6.2). Gods patience will have run its course, and God will set His holy vengeance in full motion.
A significant turning point will occur half way through these seven years. It will signal an intensification of the Creators judgments on His rebel world (Mt 24.21; Mk 13.19). Antichrist will show his true anti-Semitic colours and turn against the Jewish nation, unleashing violent persecution against them, wearing "out the saints of the most High" (Dan 7.25). Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles (Rev 11.2). Antichrist will stop the daily sacrifices and, being so intoxicated with power, deify himself, demanding divine honours (2 Thess 2.4). His false prophet will erect in the rebuilt temple an idol representing the antichrist and command men to worship it (Rev 13.8-15). It is probably this image that is the abomination that desolates the Jewish temple (Dan 12.11) and which signals a violent turn in fortunes for Israel (Mt 24.15). The abomination of Antiochus Epiphanes may have prefigured this. Antiochus stopped Jewish sacrifices, sacrificed a pig on the altar, and placed an idol of the god Zeus in the Jewish temple (Dan 11.31). A godly Jewish remnant will instantly recognise the significance of this future abomination and flee to the mountains for shelter (Mt 24.15-16). The Saviour warned against any delay. He even pronounced a woe on pregnant women of that day because of the rigours of the journey. Godly Jews should pray that it be not in winter with its harsher climate, nor on the Sabbath in case legalists forcibly prevent them from going more than a Sabbath days journey. The deception of the first half of the Tribulation will continue to escalate, with more false Christs and prophets arising (Mt 24.23-26). On no account must the saints believe them, even if their messages are accompanied by miracles. After all, miraculous powers are not necessarily a sign that God is with a prophet (Deut 13.1-3).
Many of the above signs are present in our world today in a smaller scale. There are false cults, nations are always in conflict, devastating earthquakes, plagues (e.g. AIDS), and potentially disastrous lethal infections (e.g. drug resistant tuberculosis) threaten. Believers in many countries face terrible persecution. There is widespread rejection of the fundamentals of the faith. And still the gospel is preached throughout the world. How do these events relate to the coming day of wrath? Before a woman starts labour proper she experiences mini-contractions which are a sign that labour may start at any time. What we see now indicates that this time of tribulation is drawing near and that this world is ripe for Gods judgment. The teaching that things will steadily improve until Christ returns is utterly false. Rather, there will be a time of unparalleled trouble prior to Christs return in glory.
Jesus Christ is coming again. Immediately after the tribulation of those seven years "shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Mt 24.29). It is against this dark background, with "Mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Lk 21.26), that Christ will return to mount Olivet, splitting it in two, and creating an escape route for the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zech 14.3-5). His glorious second advent, in which He will descend in the clouds with power and great glory, will flash across this world like lightning no one will miss it. "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn" (Mt 24.30). The angels who accompany Christ serve two important functions. First, "they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Mt 13.41-42). Second, "with a great sound of a trumpet, [and] they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Mt 24.31). The ungodly will be punished, the man of sin and his false prophet will be cast alive into the lake of fire (Rev 19.20), while "the righteous [shall] shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mt 13.43).
To be continued.
1 McClain AJ. Daniels Prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishing House, 1940), p. 50.