Thanks to the History Channel and other such outlets, most people in this country are aware that there are many folks who believe that the world is going to end very badly. And so, sitting in front of their TV sets, they get regular doses of the Book of Revelation mixed liberally with Nostradamus, pseudo-scientists, UFO proponents and a wide variety of prophets and prophecies from all over the world. In these presentations, the Apostle John and his Revelation are presented as just one of many sources that are equal in authority. Bible believing Christians, however, recognize that there is only one authoritative source for understanding the future. The God given Scriptures reveal important, authoritative and detailed information about upcoming events. In this study, we continue our investigation into the coming time of great trouble, commonly known as The Tribulation.
From our last study we noted that the length of this time is seven years; that the true Church is removed from this time of God’s wrath; that the main reason for the tribulation period is to save Israel and many others; that it is indeed a time of terrible judgment; and finally, that the level of supernatural activity is unprecedented in all of human history.
We suggested in our last study that the Tribulation of seven years has three distinct parts to it; the first half, the midpoint and the second half. Noting what happens in each part is important to our understanding of this coming time of trouble. In this study, we will take a look at the first half; that is, the initial period of 3½ years.
Five Key Elements in the First Half of the Tribulation Period
- THE NATION OF ISRAEL. It is abundantly clear from both OT and NT that the people of Israel must be back in their land when the events of the end times take place. Ezekiel sees Israel’s restoration back to their land as the necessary prerequisite for their salvation (Ezek. 34-39). And he sees their return taking place over a period of time and a return that is observed by the nations of the world. Daniel informs us that Israel returns to their OT Levitical worship system during the early days of the tribulation which involves the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple (Dan. 9:24-27) and Paul places the Antichrist in that rebuilt temple in those days (2 Thess. 2:4). This temple and its worship can only take place in Jerusalem. During the first years of the tribulation, Israel has come back to the land but they do so as an unbelieving nation. Israel is restored geographically but not spiritually. In His prophetic discourse, Jesus also places Israel in the land during those great and terrible days (Matt. 24:4-31). Many other prophets, like Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah, are clear that Israel will be in the land when the events of the end times occur. So, Israel has returned to the land but they have not returned to the Lord as the Tribulation begins to unfold.
- THE “SUPER CHURCH”. Revelation 17 reveals the presence of a wealthy and powerful religious system during the first half of the Tribulation. She is said to be Babylon “the mother of harlots.” Babylon is synonymous with religion that is false. Harlotry is an OT concept (e.g. Hosea 4:10-11) which differs somewhat from our usual understanding of a prostitute. In the OT, it speaks of Israel, the unfaithful wife of Jehovah. It looks at those who claim to have a relationship with the Lord God but are unfaithful to that relationship, going after other gods. This idea is transferred over to the NT in Revelation 17, leading us to suggest that this is the unfaithful, apostate “church”. It claims a relationship with the Lord but is terribly unfaithful to Him. The plural “harlots” suggests that it is an ecumenical system, made up of various religious groups which claim a loyalty to Christ.
Three basic facts are revealed about this system. (1) It is very wealthy as is seen by her garments and the presence of gold and jewels. (2) She is politically powerful as is seen by the fact that she rides the “beast” (i.e. she dominates the Antichrist). And (3) she is the great persecutor of true believers in Christ, as is seen by her being “drunk with the blood of the saints.” This religious system will dominate early in the Tribulation but will be destroyed completely by the Antichrist and his followers at the midpoint of the Tribulation (17:16-17).
- GOD’S JUDGMENTS. Jesus Messiah is given the scroll with the seals (Rev. 5) and He breaks the first seal (6:1). This initiates divine judgment in the Tribulation. This, according to Jesus in Matthew 24:8, is the beginning of “birth pains.” Birth pains are used in both OT and NT to speak of God’s judgments. Birth pains have several features to them. (1) When they begin, they do not stop until the “birth” comes (in this case it is the “birth” of the great Messianic kingdom); (2) the pains increase in intensity as the time for birth draws closer; and (3) the amount of time between the pains gets shorter and shorter as the time for birth gets closer. This is an accurate picture of the judgments in the Tribulation. The initial judgments are very painful for the world, but the last ones are far worse and there are more of them. According to Revelation 6, a minimum of 25% of the world’s population will perish in these initial judgments. (If the population of the world is 7 billion, then close to 2 billion people die). And so, if this is just the start of the birth pains, it immediately becomes clear that the worst is yet to come.
- THE SALVATION OF MANY. We noted in our first study that the main reason for this seven year period is to save people; first Israel and then a multitude of gentiles. The salvation of many begins in the first half as is seen by the tremendous numbers of saved martyrs in Revelation 7:9, 14. Jesus declared that by the mid-point of the Tribulation many in Israel will be saved, being persecuted for “His names sake” (Matt. 24:9). It is reasonable to suggest that the famous 144,000 (Rev. 7 and 14) are saved during the early days of the Tribulation and become critical in the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world (Matt. 24:14). Many are saved in the first half, but even more will come to Christ Jesus in the second half. This time is a time for the battle for the souls of men.
- THE ANTICHRIST. The man commonly called the Antichrist is certainly the dominant human figure during this period. He will arise out of a western nation (Dan. 7:7-8, 20-26) and be a prominent leader there. It is as a leader of a powerful nation that he enters into a covenant relationship with Israel, promising them his protection (Dan. 9:27). When the Tribulation begins, he moves into action and will defeat three western nations which will lead to seven others submitting to him (Dan. 7). When the dust settles, he will be the ruler of a group of eleven nations. He will remain in this position as a dictator until the middle of the Tribulation.
It would be well to remember Jesus powerful statement about this time in Matthew 24.
“…for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” (Matt. 24:21-22)
When we read such statements and learn of this coming time of trouble, most believers in Christ do believe that these things will take place. But while we “believe”, we often do not see them as relevant to life as we now live it. It is good for us to recall what Jesus told His disciples about this time. After He got done detailing this coming time (Matt. 24 and 25), Jesus spent much more time encouraging His men to be prepared by serving Him. He warned them not to become complacent but to use these truths as motivators to living well for Him in the present. And for us, it is the same. Life’s decisions, values and priorities need to be framed by the reality of future events; events which just might be closer than the man in front of his TV set watching the History Channel might imagine.