The Tribulation: The Beginning of the Day of the Lord
The Nature of the Day of the Lord
The expression “the day of the Lord” occurs frequently in the Old Testament, from Isaiah chapter 2 onwards, and in the New Testament epistles it appears three times (1 Thess 5.2; 2 Thess 2.2, RV¹; 2 Pet 3.10). The day of the Lord differs from the present, long ‘day of grace’ in that, during it, God will intervene directly in this world, in judgment in the Person of Christ, to subdue all rebellion against Him. It will have two parts: first, the Tribulation (a seven-year period of cataclysmic judgments on mankind) and, second, Christ’s millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom on earth.
The Decisive Events of the Tribulation
Gabriel’s prophecy to Daniel concerning 70 ‘weeks’ of years (490 years in total), is crucial here (Dan 9.24-27). From the date of Nehemiah’s commission, in 445 BC, to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, 483 lunar years elapsed until Christ’s rejection and crucifixion in about AD 32, but the final week of seven years has still to take place, and will commence after the end of the Church age. Technically, ‘the Tribulation period’ does not begin when the Rapture takes place, but when the future head of a confederation of ten European nations (Roman in character) makes a seven-year covenant with Israel, for their protection, when the majority of Jews are back in their land (Dan 9.27).
Several dramatic events will occur at the mid-point of the Tribulation period. Firstly, Revelation chapter 12 reveals that there will be war in Heaven between the archangel Michael with his holy angels, and Satan with his demonic hosts. Satan will be cast out of Heaven and down to earth, where he will turn all his hatred against Israel. Secondly, Revelation chapter 13 reveals that the man called the Beast, who is the same as Daniel’s evil “prince that shall come” (9.26), will seem to be assassinated publicly, and apparently raised to life again by satanic power. Subsequently, he will be energised by the Devil himself, and will demand universal worship as if he were God. In a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem an image of him will be set up (referred to as “the abomination of desolation” in Matthew 24.15), to which all must bow on pain of death.
All this probably explains why Daniel predicted that the Roman prince will suddenly break his covenant with Israel, and begin to persecute them severely instead of defending them (9.27). Thus, while the first half of the Tribulation will be “the beginning of sorrows” (Mt 24.8), the setting up of the image of the Beast in the temple will signal to the Jews that the “great tribulation” (v 21) has begun, and that they need to flee to the mountains of Transjordan. However, the Beast will only be allowed by God to rule the world, and persecute Israel and all those who believe the Gospel of the Kingdom, for three and a half years; a period also spoken of as 1,260 days (Rev 11.3), and 42 lunar months (13.5). At the end of that terrible time, God, in the Person of Christ, will intervene during the campaign of Armageddon to deliver the besieged remnant of Israel in Jerusalem from total annihilation, to judge all the living nations, and to set up His millennial Kingdom (Zech 12-14; Joel 3).
The whole Tribulation period is spoken of as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30.7); a time of severe discipline for Israel. It will also be “the hour of trial” for all unbelievers on earth; both Jews and Gentiles alike (Rev 3.10, RV).
Understanding the Tribulation Judgments
The seven-sealed scroll mentioned in Revelation chapter 5 is the key to understanding the judgments predicted in chapters 6 to 16. The scroll represents the title deed to earth, which Satan has usurped from man. Christ, the enthroned slain Lamb, is the only Man worthy to open this scroll, and thus to restore the earth to proper divine rule. The opening of the scroll is accompanied by a succession of judgments: as Christ opens each seal a judgment falls on the world and its inhabitants. First, there are seven seal judgments (Rev 6), but the seventh seal becomes another sequence of seven worse judgments, announced by angels blowing trumpets (chs 8-9). Then the seventh trumpet judgment becomes a sequence of seven even more severe judgments, which will be poured out from “vials” (bowls) in quick succession on the earth, near the end of the Tribulation (ch 16).
The Nature of the Judgments
God will cause wars to break out, which will result in famines and deadly diseases, and earth’s population will be drastically reduced. Demonic creatures will be allowed to invade the earth to wound, torture, and even kill many unbelievers. There will also be various disturbances in the heavenly bodies. If God did not limit the duration of the Tribulation no one would survive, but even His judgments will be tempered with mercy. Yet most men will not repent, but will rather curse and blaspheme God for chastising them. If God’s grace fails to melt the hearts of men then, sadly, His judgments are unlikely to do so either.
God’s Faithful Witnesses
Although the Church will have been previously raptured to Heaven, there will still be much Gospel witness throughout the Tribulation period. Revelation chapter 7 introduces us to God’s 144,000 Jewish evangelists, who are divinely sealed and protected by Him from all the judgments and persecution that will ravage the earth. They will be sealed soon after the Rapture of the Church, and although there is no specific statement in Scripture that they will preach the Gospel of the coming Kingdom of Christ throughout the world, it is assumed to be the case. In any event, through the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom, a great multitude of people will be saved, and many will suffer martyrdom as a result of the Beast’s persecution. Others will survive to enter Christ’s Kingdom in their mortal bodies.
Revelation chapter 11 predicts the ministry of God’s two special witnesses, who will be His prophets for 1,260 days in the divine spirit and power of Moses and Elijah, confounding all their enemies until God allows them to be killed by the Beast. However, God will then resurrect and rapture them to Heaven publicly. Finally, chapter 14 speaks of an angel in the midst of Heaven, who will preach “the everlasting gospel” to all men, saying “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come” (vv 6-7).
Satan’s Counterfeit Trinity
In Revelation, Satan is portrayed as a murderous red dragon (12.3), who energises two evil henchmen in their attempt to usurp the worship of the whole world from God. The first of these is the “beast” of chapter 13, who may be described elsewhere as “the man of sin” (2 Thess 2.3), “antichrist” (1 Jn 2.18), “the prince that shall come” (Dan 9.26), and “the idol shepherd” (Zech 11.17), although some Bible students relate some of these names to the second “beast” of chapter 13; “the false prophet” (Rev 19.20). The latter beast supports the first, possesses demonic powers to apparently give life to his idolatrous image, and organises the commercial use of the number 666; “the mark of the beast” (Rev 19.20).
The Rise and Fall of Babylon the Great
Revelation chapters 17 and 18 predict the two-stage judgment of a vast system called Babylon the Great, which has been growing since Genesis 11 and will come to full manifestation during the Tribulation, dominating the world for a short time. Chapter 17 describes a false religious system; an amalgamation of apostate Christendom (left behind at the Rapture) with other false religions, portrayed as a prostitute called “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth” (v 5). The adherents of this system will persecute all believers on earth during the first half of the Tribulation, killing many of them. For some time the Beast will be controlled by this system but, at the mid-point of the Tribulation, probably as a result of the events which will happen then, he and his ten confederate kings will turn against the harlot system and completely destroy her.
Chapter 18 predicts the later destruction of a related world commercial system, or city (possibly centred in the Middle East), called “Babylon the great” (v 2), which will control all trade during the Tribulation, and corrupt all who deal with it. This city will be destroyed supernaturally “in one hour” (v 10), at the end of the Great Tribulation, in the great earthquake caused by the seventh, and last, vial judgment. Then, chapter 19 shows that the marriage of Christ the Lamb to His true Bride, the Church, has taken place in Heaven, and she will appear with Him in glory soon after Babylon the great, the false bride, has been finally destroyed.
¹ Revised Version.
(To be continued …)