In the previous article in this series we saw that some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” involved the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Outline of Future Events
In the New Testament times, prophecies about the “day the Lord” were given by Christ (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21), Paul (1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Th. 1:6-10; 2:1-12), Peter (2 Pt. 3:2-12 and John (Rev. 6-20). The timing of these future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation. These are shown in a schematic diagram (a timeline where time increases from left to right; includes events on earth and in heaven): at present the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3), the next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven (not mentioned specifically here; there is just a jump from earth to heaven between ch 3 and 4), while the church is in heaven (Rev. 4-5) there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18), which will end with the return of the Lord in great power and glory (Rev. 19:11-21), followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Rev. 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21-22). The arrows in the diagram show when all Christians will be taken to heaven and when they will return from heaven. The future “day of the Lord” relates to the events between the rapture and the new heaven and the new earth.
The Greek word translated “tribulation” (Strongs #2347) means suffering and trouble. The references to the future time of “tribulation” are also translated as “anguish”, “distress”, “trouble” and “suffering” (Mt. 24:21,29; Rev. 7:14 NIV, NLT, The Message). According to the dictionary, “tribulation” means “grievous trouble” or “severe trial”. Christians may be persecuted by the world, but this tribulation is God’s judgement on the world, which lasts for about seven years.
John wrote, “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). The scroll contained a record of the judgements that must fall on the earth before the Lord Jesus can set up His kingdom (Rev.5:9). The judgements included a series of plagues like there were in Egypt before the exodus, which are called: six seals (Rev. 6); seven trumpets (Rev. 8 & 9); and seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev. 16). This period of tribulation is characterised by “God’s wrath” and “God’s fury” (Rev. 6:16; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19): “For the great day of their (God’s) wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev. 6:17). It will be a time of intense persecution of the Jews: “Then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:21-22). At the end of this period, Israel is attacked from the south and the north and the armies of the world gather for the final battle at Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Also, “Babylon the Great”, an influential religious and commercial system based in Rome, will be destroyed by the Antichrist (Rev. 17 & 18).
It is clear that these judgements are not for the church. The church is not mentioned in Rev. 6-19. Christians will not experience the tribulation as God promised the church in Philadelphia, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Also, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Th. 5:4) and “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). This is about the Tribulation, not hell; as hell is a place, not a period of time. Instead, Christians will be raptured to be with the Lord – they will be taken away, like Noah was taken away from destruction of the global flood and Lot was taken away from the destruction of Sodom.
The key personalities in the Tribulation include:
- Satan and his demons, who are cast out of heaven to the earth and will persecute the Jews (Rev. 12).
- “The beast” (or Antichrist)—a political leader based in Rome who will appear as a peacemaker to solve many of the world’s problems (Rev. 16:2), and be worshipped like a god and will persecute God’s people (Rev.13:1-9). His number is 666. The Antichrist will work like Satan works (2 Th. 2:9-12). He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that that these miracles prove that he is divine. But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the Antichrist is the Messiah; God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.
- “The false prophet”—a religious leader, based in Jerusalem, who uses supernatural powers to support the beast (Rev. 13:11-18). At the mid-point of the tribulation, he will set up an idol of the beast in the Jewish temple and make people worship it or be killed (Mt. 24:15).
Who will be saved during the Tribulation and enter into the Millennium?
- 144,000 Jewish believers will preach the gospel of the kingdom in the first half of the tribulation (Mt. 24:14; Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). This gospel was preached at Christ’s first coming, but it was rejected by most of the Jews. Now, amidst suffering, some will turn to God and they will suffer intense persecution (Rom. 1:25-26).
- Two prophets who will witness for 3.5 years (Rev. 11:1-13). The Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem (Mt. 24:15; Rev. 11:1-2).
- There will also be Gentile believers (Rev. 7:9,10,14).
The Tribulation ends when the Lord appears in great power:
- Jesus quoted from Isaiah, saying that He would return immediately after the Great Tribulation: “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29-30).
- The final catastrophic events that precede the appearing are world wide. Lk. 21:35 “For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”
- The Lord appears as “King of kings and Lord of lords” as the supreme ruler, with believers (“the armies of heaven”) (Rev. 19:1-21). “With justice He judges and makes war” (v.11).
- The beast and the armies of the world make war against the Lord (v.19). The beast and the false prophet will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur” and the others will be killed (v.20).
- Today Christ is hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him. Christ’s victory will be visible to all. At that time, God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well (Rom. 8:19; 2 Th. 2:10). God’s plan is that Christians will be with Him and like Him forever (2 Th. 2:14).
- The unsaved will be cast into hell, while the faithful will be gathered to enter the Millennium (Mt. 25:34,41): “And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt. 24:31).
Next Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-6). As this hasn’t happened yet, we are not in the millennium today. During this period, Jesus will rule on earth as the king and those who have part of the first resurrection will reign with Him (Rev. 5:10). These are believers from the church and the tribulation periods.
Peter addressed Jews in Jerusalem, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive Him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21). Following repentance of the Jews in the tribulation, The Lord will return in power to establish His Millennial kingdom. According to Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all people and they will prophesy. The day of Pentecost was a foretaste of this time.
“The Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to His blessings in the last days” (Hos. 3:4-5). The Jews will be blessed under the rule of Christ in the Millennium. It will be a time of restoration, peace and prosperity. All of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants will be fulfilled at this time.
Finally the Lord’s prayer will be answered, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). For example, there will be no war: “And He (God) will judge between the nations, and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Is. 2:4).
After the millennium Satan will be released and deceive many people who were born during the Millennium so that they form an army to attack Jerusalem, but God will intervene with fire from heaven and Satan will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur”. After this, unbelievers will take part in the second resurrection, be judged before God at the great white throne according to what they have done and thrown into the lake of fire, which is called the second death (Rev. 20:71-15).
The Great Fire
The poem “The hollow men” by T S Elliott ends with:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
But he got it wrong.
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. But 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. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:3-9).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Pt. 3:10, 12b). This is the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire. “The heavens” means the atmosphere, and maybe the rest of the universe, but not God’s dwelling place. It will be unexpected. All matter will be destroyed in what resembles a nuclear explosion. We know that matter is stored-up energy. At present it is held together by the Lord (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). At that time is seems as though the energy stored up in matter will be released, not with a whimper but a bang.
The “day of the Lord” is a theme that is particularly applied to the Jews and their enemies in the prophetic Scriptures from Amos and Isaiah to Revelation. It is a period of time when God intervenes in the world, primarily for judgement. It also describes God’s triumph over all His enemies and His granting security and blessing to His people. It will be a time of justice and retribution; of punishment and reward. A time when it will be clear to all that God is in control of our world. Some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” concerned the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. As these prophecies came true, so will those concerning the future.
Like food, prophecy is “sweet” and “sour/bitter” (Rev. 10:10). There is good news and there is bad news.
- The bad news is: much suffering and judgement is coming to all who reject the Saviour (during the Tribulation and eternally); the prophets warn people of their sinful ways and the need to repent and turn to God.
- The good news is: God will triumph over Satan and his demons and all who do evil; Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and Saviour; there will be justice and He will rule during the Millennium.
Lessons for us
The choice for us is rapture or God’s wrath. What will it be for you? Only believers escape the judgment coming on the earth in the Tribulation. We need to repent and turn to God.
Since there is a coming time of Tribulation, a Millennium and a great fire, how should we live as believers?
- “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Th. 5:6). Believers should be awake, not asleep. This means expecting Christ’s return at any moment and living for Him; not being lazy, careless, distracted from living for God, wasting time in self-indulgence, seeking wealth or fame, or falling into patterns of sinful behaviour. Secondly, believers should also be sober, not drunk. This means taking life seriously and using the opportunities we have to further the kingdom of God, instead of always seeking amusement and entertainment. It also means being self-controlled and not losing control over our behaviour including our speech, eating and drinking.
- God will rapture all believers to heaven before the Tribulation, so they are removed from the suffering of that part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:9). The rapture will be a great reunion of believers dead and alive. Like the early believers, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we eagerly waiting for it and encouraging one another with this promise (1 Th. 5:11)?
- “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives …” (2 Pt. 3:11-12a). As the material world will be burnt up, we should not be devoted to it. Instead, live for the spiritual things that last by being holy (separated from sin) and godly (be devoted to worship and serve God).
- Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about these future prophetic events (2 Th. 2:5). This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should know and teach these things to help keep our eternal perspective.
Written, May 2007
See the other article in this series:
– The Day of the Lord. Part 1: The past