What is the Tribulation?
In Matt 24 Jesus spoke of wars and rumors of war, and told us not to be alarmed because these things have to happen but they are not yet the end. Let me read to you some of what Jesus said.
7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (NIV)
Notice that this says these are the beginnings of birth pains. This is not describing the Tribulation. This is describing the increasing wickedness in our world. According to statistics gathered by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2010) an average of 159,960 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith per year. 65% of all the martyrs in history were in the 20th century.1 False prophets and those claiming to be Christ have been numerous. These things have been happening just like Jesus said they would.
And yet verse 6 of Matthew 24 tells us not to be alarmed because it is not yet the end. These are the beginnings of birth pangs.
Now let’s look at what the Bible tells us about the Tribulation. First look at Daniels 12:1:
"At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people-- everyone whose name is found written in the book-- will be delivered. (NIV)
We see here that there will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. So all the suffering of World War 2 and the persecution of the Jews and the martyrdom of Christians in China and the communist nations will pale in comparison to the sufferings of the Tribulation period. However, look at what it says – “at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.” I believe this is speaking of the rapture.
Now let’s consider what Jesus says about this same period of time in Matthew 24:21:
For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now-- and never to be equaled again. (NIV)
Jesus repeats and confirms what Daniel said 600 years earlier. There is a time of unprecedented and not to be equaled suffering coming to Earth.
We know that the Tribulation will be a period of 7 years. We get this primarily from the prophecy of Daniel. In Daniel 9:27 it says:
“He will confirm a covenant with many for one `seven.' In the middle of the `seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (NIV)
These sevens that it is speaking of here are 7 year periods. There are a total of 70 of these sevens. This prophecy of Daniel proved accurate to the day for Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and we can be confident they will prove to be just as reliable in regards to the Tribulation.
I am not going to try to cover all the events of the Tribulation at this time. What I am attempting to establish is that it will be a 7 year period of unprecedented suffering and distress. The book of Revelation tells us many of the judgments that will be poured out and of many of the events. All of this leads me to another question for today.
Why the Tribulation?
In consideration of this I want to read you a piece of ancient literature. Let’s look at Psalm 2:
1Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
3"Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters."
4The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
5Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6"I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
7I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
10Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
This Psalm was written perhaps 1,200 years before Jesus was born. From before that time until the present, the nations continue to gather together and to take a stand against the Lord and against His anointed One, Jesus Christ. Even in our nation, the most blessed and prospered nation in the history of the world, we are progressively kicking Jesus out of our public life. This Psalm describes what is going to happen as a result.
However, the Lord is not willing that any should perish. He is actually using the Tribulation as a period in which individuals will have one last chance to repent and recognize Jesus as Lord. People are doing just what Peter said they would do. They are saying that everything is continuing just like it has always done. But they do not realize that their destruction draws ever closer as they mock God and try to throw off what they see as chains and fetters.
Look with me at 2 Peter 3:3-9:
3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."
5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.
6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.
7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
If it is drawing near, when is it?
When is the Tribulation?
Daniel gives us some information about this in Daniel 9:24-27.
24"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.
25"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.
26After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
27He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (NIV)
69 of the 70 “sevens” took place. The end of these “sevens” was marked by Jesus being cut off “appearing to have accomplished nothing.” (Dan 9:27 NLT) What remains is for the last “seven” to be accomplished.
Jesus told us this about the timing in Matt 24:32-33:
32"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
33Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. (NIV)
So, we recognize that we need to watch the times. We should be able to recognize the signs of the times. The best indicators are what we already read from Matthew 24:7-8
7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8All these are the beginning of birth pains.
These beginnings of birth pains are a good indication of what we are talking about. A descent into evil is progressive. As we have read today from 2 Peter 3 people will be saying, “Everything continues just as it has from the beginning.” There is a constant increase in the problems in our world. Earthquakes and tsunamis have increased. Wars and conflicts continue to be waged all over the earth. I think of the classic frog in a kettle. I have never tried it, but I have heard that if you put a frog in a pot of water that is at a comfortable temperature and then slowly heat it up the frog will not try to escape and will eventually end up boiled. People are saying everything is going on as always, but the pot is already near boiling.
What then should we do?
What must we do to prepare?
First, I want to emphasize that Jesus has promised us victory. He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 NIV)
Jesus said, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16) We are not given the date or time, but we have marching orders. By moving forward with courage and determination to influence our world for Christ, our forefathers accomplished great things. The Lord has used our prosperity to send missionaries to the far reaches of the earth.
2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 says:
6And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.
7For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.
We are part of what holds him back. The Holy Spirit works through us. The Bible warns that the love of many will grow cold. This is what we must guard against. We are not called and set apart to be defeated. We are called and set apart to be salt that preserves and light that shows the way. Difficulty is part of our calling. Just like gold is refined by fire, our faith is strengthened by testing.
Jesus is building His church, and we are to be part of it. We are to be making disciples.
1. https://www.thoughtco.com/christianity-statistics-700533. Accessed November 2012.
2. Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
3. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.