THE TRIBULATION FROM START TO MIDPOINT
The Rapture of the church will leave the world struggling to make sense of what has happened and to recover from the vanishing of millions of people. A group of ten leaders will form a reunited Roman Empire to restore order and some semblance of normalcy. The Antichrist will appear from the shadows. He will rise out of insignificance and obscurity. He will seem to come out of nowhere, yet quickly ascend to prominence.
Revelation 4–19 gives a detailed, sequential outline of the events. Using Revelation as a framework, a Bible student is able to harmonize many other passages that speak of the seven-year tribulation into a clear model of the next time period for planet earth.
TIMING THE TRIBULATION
The Bible does not tell us how much time passes between the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation, but it seems that it probably will not be too long, as part of the purpose of the Rapture is to deliver God’s people from the coming wrath of the Tribulation. Once the stage is set and all the players are in place, a seven-year treaty will be enacted.
Daniel 9:27 describes this treaty that begins the Tribulation. This verse teaches us at least five key things about this future peace agreement:
- It will be between Israel and the Antichrist but will almost certainly involve others. Since the Antichrist will rise from a reunited Roman Empire centered in Europe, Europe in its final form will be the key player.
- It will begin the final seven-year period of the Tribulation.
- It will be a “firm” covenant; this firmness may indicate that it will initially be forced or compelled. It is also possible that this means the Antichrist will enforce or make strong a covenant that already exists.
- It will eventually give Jews the right to offer sacrifices in a rebuilt Temple. This fact assumes a Jewish Temple must be rebuilt.
- It will be broken by the Antichrist himself at the midpoint of the treaty.
REASON FOR THE TRIBULATION
Scripture provides us at least five reasons for the Tribulation. Each reason relates to a specific group or person: Israel, the Gentiles, God, Satan, and believers.
- TO PREPARE ISRAEL (A PURPOSE FOR ISRAEL)
The Tribulation will bring the Jewish people to their knees in submission to God. God will use this “time of trouble for my people Israel” to prepare the nation for her Messiah (Jeremiah 30:7). He will refine the rebellious nation in the fire of the Tribulation period (Zechariah 13:8-9). God’s purpose for Israel in the Tribulation is to bring about the conversion of a multitude of Jews, who will enter into the blessings of the kingdom and experience the fulfillment of all Israel’s covenants.
Many of the Jewish people will cry out to God for salvation from their sins during the Tribulation. They will implore God to pierce the heavens and come down to save them (Isaiah 64:1-2, 5-6, 8-9). God will mercifully answer this prayer of confession, will save many in Israel, and will bring them into the millennial kingdom under the reign of their Messiah (Jeremiah 30:8-24).
- TO PUNISH SINNERS (A PURPOSE FOR GENTILES)
God will use the Tribulation to punish the godless Gentile nations and all unbelievers for their sin, especially for rejecting His Son and receiving the Antichrist (Revelation 16:2). The world will worship the beast, and divine judgment will come upon them because they have despised God, rejected His Son, and acknowledged a demon-possessed man as their only king and deity.
Revelation 6–18 describes this sobering purpose. According to Revelation 3:10, one purpose of the Tribulation is “to test those who dwell on the earth.” The phrase “those who dwell on the earth” occurs eleven times in the book of Revelation. Revelation consistently pictures “earth dwellers” as the objects of God’s wrath because of their hardened rebellion against Him. God gives up to evil those who continue rejecting Him even in spite of His judgments.
According to Isaiah 24–27, often called Isaiah’s Apocalypse, no one will be able to hide from God’s judgment during the Tribulation. “Look! The LORD is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will no longer hide those who have been killed. They will be brought out for all to see” (Isaiah 26:21).
- TO PROVE GOD’S POWER (A PURPOSE FOR GOD)
About 3,500 years ago, the Pharaoh of Egypt mocked the God of heaven. When God is finished with the ten plagues, Pharaoh is begging the children of Israel to leave.
In a similar show of foolish bravado, the Antichrist will deny the true God and declare himself to be god. God will once again pour out His plagues to prove His power and to vindicate His reputation. Only this time it will be on a worldwide scale. Many of the Tribulation judgments described in Revelation are the same as or similar to the ten plagues of Egypt. God will prove to a rebellious world that He alone is God (Revelation 15:3-4).
- TO PORTRAY SATAN’S TRUE CHARACTER (A PURPOSE FOR SATAN)
God will use the Tribulation to fully unmask Satan for what he is—a liar, a thief, and a murderer. When God removes all restraints (2 Thessalonians 2:7), Satan will be fully manifest as the world experiences the final firestorm from the dragon. Realizing that his time is short, the devil will pour out his venom with force and violence (Revelation 12:12).
- TO PROVIDE SALVATION (A PURPOSE FOR BELIEVERS)
The Lord will graciously use the Tribulation to drive men to Himself in repentance and trust. He will harvest more souls during this time than anyone can count. There will be great revival during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14).
While the Tribulation will be a time of unparalleled turmoil and may be difficult for us to understand, God will use it to accomplish His sovereign purposes.
THE BEGINNING OF BIRTH PAINS – THE FIRST 3½ YEARS
The Rise of the Group of Ten – Reuniting of the Roman Empire
According to the Bible, the world will be divided into three main power blocs: the Western confederacy led by the Antichrist (Daniel 7:8), the Southern and Northern coalition comprised of Russia and a group of North African and Middle Eastern nations (Daniel 11:40-41; Ezekiel 38), and the Eastern alliance known as the “kings from the East” (Revelation 16:12). The Western confederation of nations will reconstitute the Roman Empire.
Ten leaders will ally together to protect the interests of the West. In Daniel 2:42-44, the group of ten is symbolized as ten toes on a great statue, and in Daniel 7:7 and 7:24 by ten horns on a beast that represents the last world empire—the Roman Empire in its final form. Many interpreters of biblical prophecy believe that the European Union could be the embryonic form of what Scripture predicts and could ultimately fulfill this predicted alliance of nations.
This Western power bloc will embody the revived Roman Empire and will have the economic and political power needed to control the Mediterranean region. Its final leader, the Antichrist, will eventually wrest control from three of the ten leaders and consolidate power very much like the Roman Empire did in the past (Daniel 7:8).
Daniel 2 and 7 lay the foundation for all that follows. These two chapters describe four great world empires that would rule over Israel in succession throughout history. With the benefit of history, we now know that these four empires were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. In Daniel 2 these four empires are pictured as four metals in a great statue that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream from God.
– Head of Gold: Babylon (Daniel 7 – Lion with the Wings of an Eagle)
– Chest and Arms of Silver: Medo-Persia (Daniel 7 – Lopsided Bear with Three Ribs in Its Mouth)
– Belly and Thighs of Brass: Greece (Daniel 7 – Leopard with Four Wings and Four Heads)
– Legs od Iron: Rome (Daniel 7 – Terrible Beast with Teeth of Iron and Claws of Bronze)
The feet and the ten toes of Iron and clay represent the final reunited Roman empire, while the Stone Kingdom that falls on earth are representative of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. In Daniel 7, the reunited Roman empire, under the control of the Antichrist, is presented by the ten Horns and the little horn.
Daniel identifies the ten toes and ten horns as ten kings (Daniel 2:44; 7:24). Revelation 13 and 17 confirm it: ten kings—symbolized by ten horns (Revelation 13:1; 17:3, 12-13). The little horn in Daniel 7:8 clearly symbolizes the Antichrist. Daniel’s prophecies about the four world empires were literally fulfilled, but one final phase of the fourth empire is still awaiting fulfillment.
First, ten kings will appear within the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. Second, a strong man whom we call the Antichrist will emerge and consolidate these ten leaders and the territory they represent into a united empire and probably extend its borders in various directions. As he makes this move, three of the ten leaders will object to his power play and will be killed (Daniel 7:8, 24). They will be replaced, and the ten kings will submit to the authority of the Antichrist and relinquish their power to him (Revelation 17:12-13). The ten kings will turn over “their kingdom to the beast” (Revelation 17:17, NASB). At this point, the Antichrist will rule over the reunited Roman Empire. Third, the Roman Empire will, by declaration or edict, extend its power over the entire earth.
THE SEVEN SEAL JUDGMENTS
Revelation 4–5 presents a scene in heaven where a seven-sealed scroll is introduced. This is the beginning of the Tribulation. The seals must be removed and the scroll must be opened by the Lord Jesus Christ. The theme of Revelation 4–5 is worship, but the subject of Revelation 6 is wrath.
The First Seal—Rider on a White Horse (Revelation 6:2)
The four horsemen are all to be interpreted together as a kind of unit.
Military Conquest – For the rider to remove peace from the earth, peace must first exist there. Therefore, the conquest of the first rider must represent a bloodless conquest and victory through diplomacy. The first horse is white, the color often associated with Christ or something good in Revelation. The image in Revelation 6:2 supports this peace-bringing interpretation. The rider wears a victor’s crown and has a bow but no arrows.
There are significant contrasts between the riders in Revelation 6:2 and Revelation 19:11-19. This rider bears the unmistakable marks of a counterfeit, and we should expect the Antichrist to imitate Christ.
The Second Seal—Rider on the Red Horse (Revelation 6:3-4)
There is almost universal agreement among scholars that this horse and rider represent war. The promised peace of the white horse is swiftly shattered by the war of the red horse.
The Third Seal—Rider on the Black Horse (Revelation 6:5-6)
The war of the red horse will result in famine and poverty—represented by the black horse. In other words, the world will suffer hyper-inflation. Food prices will skyrocket so high it will take everything a person can earn in one day just to buy enough food for one day for himself.
The global economic collapse and food shortage will set the stage for the Antichrist to move into position to begin seizing control of the world economy as described in Revelation 13.
The Fourth Seal—Rider on the Pale Horse (Revelation 6:7-8)
The fourth horseman will use four means to wreak his havoc: war, famine, disease, and the wild beasts of the earth. Some sees the wild beasts of the earth as referring to the military and political leaders who overpower, oppress, and persecute their subjects. A fourth of Earth’s population will be killed.
The Fifth Seal—Martyrs (Revelation 6:9-11)
The death of God’s people brings judgment in two ways. First, the removal of God’s people, the salt and light of the world, will allow darkness and corruption to overrun the earth unchecked. Second, as the enemies of God murder His people, they are unknowingly heaping more judgment upon themselves. Also, God will answer these martyrs’ prayers for vindication when He pours out His wrath on His enemies.
The Sixth Seal—Devastation (Revelation 6:12-17)
These disasters produce sheer panic on earth. Instead of fleeing to the God of mercy for refuge and humbly bowing before Him in worship, they conceal themselves in caves, consumed with frenzied fear.
The Seventh Seal—Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:1-2)
When it is opened there is “silence throughout heaven for about half an hour.” The stunned silence in Revelation may result from the anticipation that more judgments are coming. The seventh seal is not the end; when it is opened it contains seven trumpets of judgment.
The fact that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets indicates that the seven trumpets follow the seven seals and that the seven bowls in turn follow the seven trumpets. Also, since the judgments in each series are different and intensify as the Tribulation progresses, the succession view is best.
The midpoint of the tribulation marks a major turning point in the end times.
Phase 1: War in Heaven—Angels and Demons (Revelation 12:7-12)
A clash occurs in heaven between Satan, accompanied by his demonic minions and Michael the archangel with the angelic host (12:7-8). Michael and the angels will defeat Satan’s army, expelling them from heaven and casting them down to the earth. Knowing that his time is short, Satan will wreak as much havoc as possible.
Phase 2: War on Earth—Satan v. Israel (Revelation 12:13-17)
Satan will immediately turn his anger toward Israel. Revelation 12:1 pictures Israel as a woman “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” The woman gives birth to Jesus in Revelation 12:2, 5.
Satan focuses his fury on the woman and tries to wipe out the Jewish people once and for all to thwart the promises of God. Satan’s final assault against Israel will also fail. It will result in the repentance of Israel, the second coming of Jesus, and the establishment of the messianic kingdom.
Satan tried to kill Jesus to keep Him from fulfilling His ministry (Revelation 12:5). Satan’s fury against Israel will last for 1,260 days (3½ years) according to Revelation 12:6, 14. This is the second half of the Tribulation. God will supernaturally protect Israel from Satan’s onslaught, symbolized by a ferocious flood flowing from the dragon’s mouth (Revelation 12:14-16).
SATANIC WORSHIP—THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
This event will involve the Antichrist, the false prophet, and the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. During at least part of the first half of the Tribulation, the Jewish people, under their peace treaty with the Antichrist, will rebuild their Temple and begin offering sacrifices there (Daniel 9:27). However, midway through the seven-year Tribulation, that will all change. Likening the seven years to one week, Daniel 9:27 (NASB) says, “In the middle of the week he [the Antichrist] will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” At this point, the Antichrist will break his treaty with Israel and commit an act that is most often called “the abomination of desolation.” Scripture refers to this sacrilege several times (Daniel 9:27; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14).
In his initial takeover of Jerusalem, the Antichrist will sit in the very Holy of Holies in the Temple, declaring to the world that he is God, thus establishing the final false religion that he will impose on the entire world (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). The Antichrist will not be able to sit in the Temple 24/7 to receive worship, so in this second phase of abomination, he will commission an image or idol of his likeness to be constructed to sit in the Temple in his place (Revelation 13:11-15).
The Antichrist’s right-hand man, the false prophet, will be given the authority to do great signs and wonders, deceiving people into worshiping the Beast. His greatest deception will be the construction of an image or likeness of the Antichrist that will come alive. All the earth will be required to worship the Beast and his image or face death (Revelation 13:15).
The idol will remain there for the final 1,260 days or 3½ years of the Tribulation period. Daniel 12:11 says that the abomination of desolation will stand in the Holy Place for 1,290 days. That is the final 3½ years of the Tribulation (1,260 days) plus thirty extra days. The judgments of Christ will take some time to complete.
THE ASSASSINATION AND RESURRECTION OF THE ANTICHRIST
Revelation 13:3-4 describes this event. This stunning event will happen at the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation and will coincide with Satan’s being cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:12). This resurrection is the event that propels the Beast to popularity and compels the world to fall at his feet. Many scholars argue that since Satan does not have the power to give life, this death and resurrection will be an illusion. They will not accept the resurrection of Christ, but they sure are going to fake the resurrection of the Antichrist. If Satan has the power to give life to a dead idol, then why is it not also possible for him (with God’s permission) to resurrect a man from the dead? Revelation 13 contains the repeated refrain “and it was given to him” (NASB) or “and the beast was allowed” (NLT). This phrase makes clear that God is the One permitting the Antichrist to carry out his plans.
Revelation 17:8, 11 supports this when it refers to the Beast, which “was, and is not” (NASB). John Phillips builds on this notion, saying, “The Beast has two comings. He appears first as the ‘beast . . . out of the sea’ (13:1), and later, after his assassination, as the ‘beast . . . out of the abyss’ (17:8).” In other words, the Antichrist will be resurrected from the abyss with hellish powers to deceive the world.