This past couple of weeks I had the opportunity of teaching the books of Daniel and Revelation to a fine group of students at the Jackson Hole Bible College. Like many believers, they really didn’t understand at first that the purpose of the coming period of tribulation is to save people; first Israel, but also multitudes of gentiles. God doesn’t need 7 years to judge people, but time is needed for the gospel to be given out and for people to ponder and respond. Salvation is God’s great desire. In Psalm 2, after clearly warning the unbelieving kings of the earth about their judgment, the Psalmist encourages them to avoid that by turning to the Lord.
Now it is very true that the Scriptures inform us that this age will climax with a chamber of horrors commonly known as the Tribulation. This seven year period of time will bring an unprecedented time of trouble for the whole world. (Note particularly Matthew 24:21; Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:2.) There never has been, nor will there ever be a time like it.
Most people, even those who are not believers in the Bible, have some knowledge of “Armageddon” and realize that the Bible talks about the earth ending with great catastrophes. While many predictions concerning the end of the world has come and gone, still many movies are made and TV shows created which have end times destruction as a theme. But even these miss what the Bible says.
God’s wrath will be poured out in a most powerful way during those seven years. In giving us the basics of the judgments of God’s wrath, the Apostle John records, in Revelation, that there will be 19 specific judgments. These judgments are said to be “birth pains” indicating that after they begin they will grow worse and worse and closer together as the seven years proceed along. This lets us know several basic points: (1) that the majority of judgments take place in the latter part of the Tribulation, and that (2) the last judgments will be worse than the initial ones. These 19 judgments will devastate the world. Body counts are given for 2 of the 19 judgments (the 4th Seal and the 6th Trumpet). In these two judgments, 50% of the population of the earth dies. But when we look closely at the rest of the judgments, it is quite clear that the death toll far exceed 50%. We are probably not too far off by saying that 80-85% will perish. So if the Tribulation begins with the population of the earth being 7 billion, then those that die under the wrath of God will be around 6 billion. All that in 7 years.
But death will also come at the hand of Satan. Satan will use the Great Harlot (Rev. 17) and the Antichrist (Rev. 13) to shed the blood of millions of God’s people. This incredible loss of human life coupled with unprecedented earthquakes (two of them that move the entire crust of the earth), burning of earth, destruction of the oceans and fresh water sources will make this the worst period in all of human history. It is no wonder that Jesus observed that unless God had limited this time to just 7 years no human being would be left standing (Matt. 24:22).
In spite of all this mayhem and destruction, judgment is really not the main reason for the Tribulation period. If all God wanted to do was judge evil men and nations, then he could do it in 7 minutes (such as with Sodom and Gomorrah). He would not need 7 years but could get His point across much quicker. But salvation of people is God’s great purpose and that does take some time. The gospel must be proclaimed and men hear it and then chose to respond to Jesus Christ or not.
(1) Saving Israel. In His covenant promises to Abraham (and Abraham’s descendants) God declared that He would bring Israel into the New Covenant. The New Covenant deals with salvation and the forgiveness of sins. In all the centuries since Jesus came and died on the Cross, the nation of Israel has never turned to Him. And yet Jesus was abundantly clear when He declared that He would not return to the earth again (the 2nd Coming) until Israel turned to Him in faith (Matt. 23:39). Saving Israel is God’s first and primary order of business in the Tribulation. And He will accomplish this great goal as these Scriptures state with clarity.
“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in: and thus ALL ISRAEL will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” Romans 11:25-27
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people (Israel) and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.” Daniel 9:24
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25
Israel begins the Tribulation as an unbelieving nation, but that rapidly begins to change, probably as the 144,000 Jewish evangelists begin to make an impact. Jesus said that about half way through the Tribulation, Israel would begin to be persecuted “on account of My name” (Matt. 24:9). Now Israel has been and continues to be persecuted by the gentile nations, but not because she has identified with the Lord Jesus Christ! The 144,000 (Rev. 7) along with the “two witnesses” (Rev. 11) apparently have a huge impact on the nation of Israel, so that by the end of the Tribulation “all” Israel has come to faith in Christ. With the salvation of Israel, the Great King Jesus can now return. But before He does there are many more that need saving. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 12:3—“in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
(2) Saving gentiles. In the Old Testament, it was always God’s plan to reach the gentile nations through Israel. The Israelites were to be a light to the gentiles. Unfortunately they behaved badly and never really were that light bringing the knowledge of the Lord Jehovah to the nations. But that changes dramatically in the Tribulation. They will be a beacon light in that terribly dark period of time. According to Revelation 7:9-14, millions upon millions from every nation will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. It is important to observe that these people (of Rev. 7) were saved during the Tribulation period and not during the ages of the church or some other time. And while they died for their faith, the number of them runs in the millions.
Some Concluding Thoughts
This short study should remind us that the Lord delights in saving people and is committed to doing that. Judgment is not what He delights in, but rather the regeneration of lost people. The Tribulation, while having terrible judgments, is primarily a time for salvation. God will fulfill His commitment to save Israel, and Israel in turn will be the ones who spread the truth of God which results in so many gentiles coming to know Jesus. (It is likely that with all of the outpouring of the supernatural that there will be no atheists or agnostics during the Tribulation. The issue is whether you will side with Jesus or with Satan/Antichrist).
I asked the students at Jackson Hole Bible College to tell me what impacted them the most in our study of Revelation. It was encouraging that many of them stated that this study of future things prodded them to want to share the gospel of Christ with others. Today God wants us to share the Good News about Jesus. And perhaps our obedience in this matter, will cause some in the Tribulation to come to Christ. Imagine if you shared the gospel with a person on Wednesday (and there is no response) and then the Rapture takes place on Thursday. The seed we planted could still bear fruit in those days of the Tribulation. God simply loves to save people.