Consideration has been given to the duration of the Tribulation and a number of the catastrophes of that unique period. This article will focus on the major players in these horrific years of human history leading up to the benign universal reign of the Lord Jesus.
"Last days" prophecies demand the existence of the State of Israel. For example, in His Olivet Discourse the Lord Jesus spoke of "the holy place", that is, the Temple at Jerusalem (Mt 24.15). He referred to "Judaea" (v.16), and "the sabbath day" (v.20), all indications that the Jewish people will be in their land practising their religion.
With the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jews were scattered across the globe, but, amazingly, throughout the centuries they retained their distinctive racial identity. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Zionist Movement gathered pace with its demands for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. On 2nd November, 1917, in what became known as the Balfour Declaration, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour stated that his government would do everything possible to facilitate that goal. At the end of the First World War Palestine became a British Protectorate, and when the mandate ended on 14th May, 1948 the Star of David replaced the Union Flag and the State of Israel was born. That very day she was invaded by her Arab neighbours but survived, and in the Six-Day War of June, 1967 took control of Jerusalem and other territories. Israels occupation of these areas is still a festering sore in Middle East politics. After centuries of dispersion Israel was in her land again. Her final regathering as predicted in Scripture awaits the Advent of the Messiah, but it is of major significance that the State of Israel exists, a necessary prerequisite for the outworking of Bible prophecy.
Middle Eastern States
Daniel 11 is a remarkable passage of Scripture in which most of the predictions are now history. The accuracy of this history, written beforehand, has provoked the detractors of Scripture to question the dating of Daniels prophecy and to allege that it must have been written after the events! The believer sees it as an outstanding evidence of divine inspiration. There are two main protagonists in the drama, the king of the south and the king of the north. Malcolm C Davies identifies these as the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria/Palestine, that is, states to the south and north of Israel respectively (Anticipating The End Times, p.114). There comes a point in the chapter where there is a leap from what is now past to "the time of the end" (v.40), clearly a reference to events in the second half of Daniels Seventieth Week. The king of the north and the king of the south still feature, but then they will be allies rather than opponents. Their common foe will be one whose description tallies with that of the man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2. These latter verses of Daniel 11 seem to be describing the military campaign that will culminate in Armageddon, by which time the armies of the Beast will have swept through many lands and be encamped in "the glorious land"; the middle-eastern powers will show resistance to his expansionist ambitions. Lands to the east of the River Jordan will escape his attention (v.41), but that whole Middle East area will be a cauldron, a theatre of war that will be the scene of hostilities of World War proportions, with Israels neighbours to the north and south being sucked into the conflict.
Ezekiel 38-39 predicts an invasion of Israel that appears to be separate from the Armageddon campaign, possibly taking place during the first half of Daniels Seventieth Week. This conclusion is arrived at by virtue of descriptions of Israels lack of vigilance at that time. The aggressor describes her as "the land of unwalled villages them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates" (38.11). Israels guard will be down; high levels of security will be deemed unnecessary; she will be lulled into complacency. It may be conjecture, but it is likely that the seven-year treaty agreed with the beast (Dan 9.27) will involve the promise of military protection, giving rise to Israels cutting the defence budget. The present perpetual state of high alert will be a thing of the past, and so she will be perceived as a soft target.
The early verses of Ezekiel 38 identify those who will be confederate in the invasion, primarily Gog, judged by many to be an ancient name for what is now the Russian peoples. Her first ally is said to be Persia, modern Iran. It is of interest that while Russia appeared to be a very lame duck after the break up of the Soviet Union, she has reasserted herself and has flexed her military muscles. Without falling into the trap of interpreting Bible prophecy in light of current events, it seems significant that Russia remains sympathetic to Iran while most of the world is outraged at her nuclear ambitions.
The object of the invasion will be to plunder Israel, to strip her of her major economic assets (vv.12-13). These plans, and indeed the whole invasion strategy, will be thwarted by intervention from heaven. A dreadful massacre will take place on the mountains of Israel without the defenders firing a shot. By a divine initiative, in-fighting, epidemic and apocalyptic storms will annihilate the Russian confederacy (38.21-39.8). Such will be the carnage that carrion birds and beasts will gorge themselves on the corpses and it will take seven months to bury the remains (39.11-16). The debris of war will provide firewood for seven years (vv.9-10).
The Far Eastern Powers
Some time after the abortive invasion from the north, there will be an offensive from the east by an alliance described in Revelation 16.12 as "the kings of the east". Enticed by demonic forces, they will march westwards to be marshalled eventually at Armageddon. The great river Euphrates will be dried up to facilitate their advance. On the only other occasion in which the Euphrates is mentioned in Revelation, the context speaks of an army of 200 million (Rev 9.13-21). Some take that to be an army of evil spirits, but if you accept it as literal fighting men and link it with the kings of the east, then the invading army will be of massive proportions. The east is perhaps the only part of the world from which the concentration of humanity could supply such an enormous force. Both China and India boast a population of over a thousand million, and other far-eastern lands are teeming with inhabitants. Right now, the Orient could muster the mammoth army of which Revelation speaks. However, no matter how you interpret the hordes that are mentioned in ch.9, their existence and activity will result in the demise of one third of the earths population.
The Ten Kingdom Confederacy
We resist the temptation to speak of the United States of Europe or the revived Roman Empire, but it is clear that the major power bloc of these end times will be a ten kingdom unit headed by the satanically energised man whom we call the Beast (Rev 13.1). There is the suggestion of it in Daniel 2 and 7, confirmed by the vision of the beast in Revelation 13.
Initially, this political entity will be dominated by a religious organisation described as "Babylon the Great" (Rev 17.5); the woman will ride the beast (v.3). This organisation has had centuries of experience of political involvement, exercising massive influence over many of the governments of the world. Her hostility to believers has been consistent throughout all generations. However, by Revelation 17 her days are numbered, and there will come a point when the leaders of the ten nations will resent her interference, throw off her shackles, destroy her influence, reject her demands and utterly destroy her. Her religious activity will be outlawed with everything else that comes under the umbrella of "religion" (2 Thess 2.4). These leaders and their people will worship the beast, and imbibe his infatuation with warfare and armaments; power and weaponry will be their god (Dan 11.37-38).
The blanket ban on religion in the middle of Daniels Seventieth Week will affect Judaism (Dan 9.27), but undoubtedly it will impact on the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the Lord Jesus did promise that the message of salvation would penetrate "all the world" (Mt 24.14), and despite the obvious perils involved in embracing Christ and renouncing the beast, myriads will respond to the preaching, "a great multitude, which no man could number" (Rev 7.9).
Whatever the initial intentions of each of these various military groupings, ultimately they will unite in opposition to the Lord Jesus when He appears in power and great glory (Rev 19.19-21).
To be continued.