This sermon is number 3 in a series of 6
Crucial Questions On Christ's Return - Part 3
"Tribulation: Now Or Never?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want you to turn with me first of all to one text, Jeremiah chapter 30 - we're reading from three texts, although there's no text on your study sheet, there are so many verses that we're going to be looking at tonight just in introduction. It would be good if you had some bookmarks to actually mark these portions of Scripture as we will be, later on, going back to them. The first is Jeremiah 30 and verse 7 - just the one verse: "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it".
Then Daniel chapter 9 and verse 24 - Daniel is given a vision of the Lord, and he recounts it here: "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" - that is, the Messiah. "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks", now it's self-evident that that can't be seven literal weeks, "the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times". Verse 26: "And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week" - now this personal pronoun 'he' here cannot refer to Messiah, because Messiah is not going to make a covenant with the people of God that should bring in a tribulation. It's talking about Antichrist, "he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate".
Then one more verse, just the one from Matthew 24. Matthew 24 is chiefly on the subject of what we're looking at tonight, the Great Tribulation period, that is the theme. Verse 21 of Matthew 24, the Lord Jesus is speaking to His disciples in this, what is called the Olivet Discourse: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be".
A common statement that's often made when prophetic matters are discussed is: 'I believe that the church will go through the Tribulation, because the Bible says that we as believers will suffer persecution'. Many people are very keen on reading their Bibles, and they come across verses which tell them that we as believers in this world will suffer, we will go through trials, temptations, and tribulations of all sorts - and therefore they assume that this time that will come upon all the earth, called the Great Tribulation, we will also partake of. Now the problem with such a statement is that while it appears to have a veneer of biblical correctness, in reality it really lacks an understanding concerning God's purpose for what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. I hope that we will see tonight that God's purpose has nothing to do with the church of Jesus Christ on the earth.
Now there's no doubt in my mind, and I hope yours, that the Bible does clearly teach that we as believers will go through trial here on the earth. In fact the Lord Jesus Himself in John 16 verse 33 said: 'In the word ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world'. So there is a general trouble that we all face from day-to-day because of our Christian testimony. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 that they: "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution". It is inevitable that if we are following Christ in this age that is against Him, and anti-Christ, we will face some tribulation or other. But the question before us tonight is: is there in the holy Scriptures such a thing as the Great Tribulation? A period of time that can be isolated to what we call the pouring of God's wrath upon the earth. Then the further question is: when was it? Has it happened? Is it in the past, as some believe? Will it be in the future, as others believe? Will the church experience it, as many believe?
These questions, I believe, can be answered by asking a further question, simply this that I mentioned at the beginning: what is God's purpose in this Great Tribulation? By answering that question we will answer the question of when it is, and who will go through it, and what the goals and purpose of it really are. I want to answer that question - what is God's purpose for the Great Tribulation? - by answering some interrogatives. Now if you know your English grammar, you will know that interrogatives are the questions: why, what, where and how and such like. So we're going to interrogate this subject 'The Great Tribulation', and ask the five questions at least that are before you on the sheet this evening. Now do bear with me, we've a lot of Scriptures to get through tonight, but hopefully we'll get to the bottom of the answer: Tribulation - is it now or will it ever be?
Now we're asking the first simple question, an elementary one: what is it? What is this Great Tribulation? Now we have to say, we've just read Matthew 24 and verse 21, and that is the only occurrence in the New Testament Scriptures where the technical expression 'The Great Tribulation' is mentioned. It is the Greek statement 'flipsis megala' (sp?), and you find it in verse 21 that we read: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be". A period on the earth that Jesus is describing in Matthew 24, that has never ever been experienced before, and will never ever be experienced again. Now we read of it in Jeremiah 30 and verse 7, hundreds of years before Jesus spoke of it, and he said, as we read: "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it".
We read from Daniel 9, but if you were to turn - if you want to - to Daniel 12 verse 1, Daniel speaks in almost identical language to that which the Lord used in Matthew 24:21, and describes a similar event that will come on the world. Daniel 12 and verse 1: "And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people", of course Israel, "shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book". So it's clear, and we'll see a little bit later that the whole of the Scriptures from Genesis to the book of Revelation right at the end testify of a Great Tribulation period at some time that will come upon the earth.
Turn with me again to Matthew 24, because the Lord Jesus, after He mentions this Great Tribulation in verse 21, He goes on and He talks about how immediately after the tribulation of those days, verse 29, that the Lord Jesus Christ would come again. Look at it: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory". Now if David puts the first diagram, I think it's the first one, on the screen - you remember this from our first week - this is the pre-millennial interpretation of the understanding of biblical prophecy. Really what you have up to verse 29 in Matthew 24 is this period here of the tribulation, seven years, and then in verse 29 immediately after those days, then there will be the sign of the appearing of the Son of Man, and He will come to judge the world at that final Armageddon battle at the end of it all.
What I want you to see is that these events that the Lord has been describing up to verse 29, have not been to do with the Lord Jesus Christ, but rather have been topical of Antichrist - the rising not of the coming of Christ, but the rising of the man of sin, the son of perdition, who is Antichrist. This is very interesting because the Great Tribulation has really got more specifically to do with Antichrist, his forces, his influence on the earth, than it has to do with the Lord Jesus Christ - because the Lord comes at the very end of it all. Now that coincides with Revelation 13, because in Revelation 13 we read how Antichrist comes on the scene, and really this is his stage in his theatre during the tribulation period - of course, all in the sovereign will of God. He is now setting himself forth as a deity, he is deifying himself in the eyes of men and women in this world. We read there in Revelation 13 that he enters into the temple of God that has been rebuilt during the tribulation time, and he actually proclaims himself to be God.
Now the Lord spoke of this in Matthew 24 as the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel - a man actually entering into the temple of God, sitting, as it were, on the throne of God, claiming he is God and wanting to be worshipped as God - what an abomination that is! Now we read of it in 2 Thessalonians, if you turn with me to it, chapter 2 and we read from verse 1: "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders".
Revelation 13 tells us that the tribulation period, this great time of God's wrath, will also be a time when Antichrist will come to the fore. Then when we move on from Revelation 13 to Revelation 14, it seems to highlight that the Great Tribulation period will be God pouring tribulation upon Antichrist, upon the Beast, and upon the people of the earth who have followed the Beast and pledged allegiance to him. Now turn with me to Revelation 14 till I show you this, and we're just laying a foundation to show you some of the themes of the Great Tribulation. We read in verse 10 of Revelation 14 that the Antichrist, the Beast will: 'drink of the wine of the wrath of God', verse 10, 'which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb'. Then Christ moves, during the tribulation period, from judging the Antichrist who has arisen, destroying him, to come to his followers - those who have taken the mark of the Beast. In verse 15 we see that the Lord Jesus wields His sickle because the harvest of earth's iniquity and sinfulness is now ripe: 'And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe' - it is ripe with sin.
Thus this world's great experience of tribulation, is the great winepress of the wrath of God against all sin in humanity, all of the spirit and personality of Antichrist and the followers of his. In verse 19 we read: "the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God". It is the greatest ever manifestation upon the earth of God's wrath against sin. We must grasp that, that is what the tribulation period really is - and we will tease it out and specify it a little bit more throughout our study this evening. But what I want you to see just now is that throughout all Scripture this tribulation period is clearly taught.
Now it is given many names, as I've already said it's only called 'The Great Tribulation period' in Matthew 24; but if David brings up the next slide you will see that the Old Testament Scriptures teach us this truth under many names. You'll find first of all it mentioned as 'birth pangs' in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and also Jeremiah again. Another name for it is 'the day of the Lord', and this is probably - it is indeed, in fact - the most popular name for the tribulation period; look how many books: Obadiah, Joel, Amos, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, Zechariah - this is mentioned, this period, as 'the day of the Lord'. Now please don't confuse that with 'the day of Christ' that you find in the New Testament, which describes the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus, that's a different period completely. Then another statement that is given to this period is 'the great and terrible day of the Lord', now that 'LXX' simply means the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures - just as you have an English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, some of the Greek speakers had a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and in it it is called 'the great and terrible day of the Lord' - Malachi 4 and verse 5. Another title that is given to it is 'the day of wrath' in Zephaniah 1:15. The next is 'the day of the Lord's wrath', Zephaniah 1:18. 'The day of distress', Zephaniah 1:15. 'The day of trouble', Zephaniah 1:15 again. 'The day of desolation'; 'the day of vengeance', Isaiah; 'the day of Jacob's trouble', as we read in Jeremiah 30:7; 'the day of darkness and gloominess', Zephaniah, Amos, Joel; 'the day of clouds and thick darkness', Zephaniah and Joel; 'the day of trumpet and battlecry', Zephaniah 1:16; 'the day of alarm', Zephaniah 1:16; 'the day of the Lord's anger', Zephaniah; 'the day of destruction and ruin from the Almighty', Joel 1:15; 'the day of calamity and distress' in Deuteronomy and Obadiah; 'trouble and tribulation', in Deuteronomy and Zephaniah. One week, we read of it in Daniel 9, Daniel's 70th week; 'the time', or the day, 'of trouble and distress' in Daniel and Zephaniah; simply 'the indignation' in Isaiah 26; Isaiah 28 'the overflowing of the scourge' - and finally 'the fire of His jealousy' in Zephaniah 1:18. That's all under the Old Testament I think, but look at it! The Old Testament Scriptures clearly teach that there is this great day of God's wrath, they give various names to it, but it's right throughout all of the prophets major and minor.
Now when we go into the New Testament we find that it correlates exactly to what is taught in the Old Testament Scriptures. Look at the different names in the New Testament alone: 'the day', simply 'the day' in 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 'those days', Matthew 24 that we read and Mark 13; 'the day of the Lord', and again I stress that you don't confuse that with the day of Christ, but it is the day of God's judgment, the day of the Lord, not the millennium. 'The wrath of God', 1 Thessalonians 5, Revelation 11; 'the wrath to come' 1 Thessalonians 1; 'the great day of their wrath' Revelation 6; 'the wrath of God' Revelation 15:14 and 19; 'the wrath of the Lamb' Revelation 6; 'the hour of trial' Revelation 3; 'the tribulation', as we read in Matthew 24; 'the time of tribulation' Mark 13; 'the Great Tribulation', 'the hour of judgment', 'birth pangs'. Those are the New Testament names for the Great Tribulation period. Now I don't know how many there were, I didn't count them, but there's a great number of names! The weight of evidence in both Old and New Testament is that Scripture teaches that there's going to be this great day of God's wrath poured upon all the world, and all of the names correlate together to prove this.
So let me just say, before we go on any further, to understand what the Lord Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24 and what we have read together about in Revelation, we've got to understand how the Old Testament used this word 'Great Tribulation' and all the variants of it. We understand the New Testament theory of the Great Tribulation by understanding how it was used and understood in the Old Testament. That's terribly important - but what a lot of people do is, they disregard prophecies in the Old Testament, and as we saw in our first study this spiritualise them all to the church or to this present age of grace; and they ignore completely how these Old Testament prophecies were given, understood by listeners, and how they knew they would be fulfilled in the future. So I hope we've looked and saw, quite clearly, what this tribulation period really is.
Now the big question is: when will it take place? When will the tribulation period take place? Well, there are various views on that question. There is the school of 'realised eschatology', which simply means that it's all already happened. C.H. Dodd, who is an intellectual scholar - if you study theology, or even A-level Religious Studies you will read of him - he holds the view that the Lord Jesus, when He suffered and died, He endured the Great Tribulation - that was the Great Tribulation, when the Lord went to the cross and died and bore our sins. Therefore he interprets every reference in scripture to tribulation as occurring in the lifetime, and particularly the 'passion' of the Lord Jesus on the cross. Now the offshoot of that is that he believes that eschatological salvation comes in a general resurrection that happened at the resurrection of our Lord - so we have no resurrection to look forward to, or second coming, as it were, because it all happened through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. That is the realised school of prophecy or eschatology.
Then there is the 'reformed' school - we looked at it in our first week: a- and post-millennialism. They interpret the tribulation period as just being before the close of the age. They believe that we're in the millennium now, you remember that, and they believe that the Great Tribulation will just come before the Lord Jesus returns - we are raptured, go up and then come down again, and then the Lord will bring eternal life to all those who believe in Him. That is the reformed school of prophecy.
Then there is the 'symbolic school' which takes an allegorical interpretation, so it believes that the tribulation and the millennium are symbolic and allegorical of the Christian's death and resurrection in baptism. The tribulation, in other words, is when you die with Christ and go under the water. The millennium is when you rise again unto newness of life in Christ - and so they spiritualise it all to mean the Christian experience.
Then there are the 'historicists' - these are people who believe that the tribulation period occurred in the experience of the church of the past, usually at some point during the Roman persecutions. Whether it was Nero, or Caligula, or Domitian - they believe that when Christians were being fed to the lions, and being put on stakes and crucified and hanged, that that was the Great Tribulation and it's all past. That's an interesting view.
Then there are what is called the 'preterists', this school believes that Daniel's 70th week was fulfilled completely in AD 70. Now what happened in AD 70? Well, there was the destruction of Jerusalem. What happened was the Roman persecutors came in, and they destroyed the temple, they sacked the city of Jerusalem; and they believe that that was the coming of judgment upon the Jews, that was the Great Tribulation - and therefore it is done, it's dusted, it's over, in the past. There are actually more extreme preterists who believe that the Lord Jesus actually came at that the event - He came spiritually, not literally, no eye saw Him - but when He came there was judgment, the Jews were judged, scattered in the diaspora, and that was Jesus coming again and we don't look forward to His second coming in a day which is yet to be.
Now you may not have known that there were all these views on the tribulation of the world, and you ask the question: which is true? How can we discern with so many varied views? Some of them, the more you read them, can seem quite legitimate to a reasonable and rational mind. But the fact of the matter is this - and I remind you of something that I've taught you already - we have established, I hope, that the only consistent way of interpreting prophetic scripture is to interpret it as we interpret every other part of Scripture: that is, literally, historically, grammatically. We take it first and foremost at face value, we interpret it according to its first primary historical context, and then we also look at it grammatically - and whatever it says, we believe that that is what it means. Our hermeneutic in interpreting prophecy is of primary importance - and if you don't know much about that, and think I'm talking up in the sky, get some of the tapes of previous weeks and I hope that you will understand. Now if you take that as granted, that you believe that you interpret prophecy literally, historically, grammatically, all these other views concerning the tribulation period are confounded because none of them satisfy all the biblical requirements of the Great Tribulation that we have just cited. They're described for us in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and none of these other views satisfy those requirements.
Take, for instance, the preterist view that the Lord Jesus came in judgment in AD 70 and there's nothing to look forward to. Well, they're right in the sense that the temple was destroyed, the Lord Jesus foretold that the temple would be destroyed. He spoke in Matthew 24 of people, Jews, fleeing to the mountains - that is exactly what happened at that time in AD 70. There was the Masada fort, you know all about it, the suicides and everything, and all the Jews went into that fort up on the mountain. There are other facts, there are historians that tell us that not a stone was left upon a stone when the Romans came into Jerusalem. All these things seem, at face value, to fulfil the prophecies that the Lord gave in Matthew 24 - but the fact of the matter is, when the Lord is quoted by Luke in Matthew 21 and 22, He speaks of a future day, the days of vengeance 'when all things which are written may be fulfilled' - when all things that are written may be fulfilled! What was not fulfilled in AD 70 was Christ visibly coming. Every eye shall see Him, Revelation chapter 1 tells us. The opposing armies of the Romans against the Jews were not defeated by the presence of the Lord as prophecy teaches they will be. All Israel was not saved in AD 70, and the Jews as the people of God were not grafted into the olive tree once again. In fact we read in Scripture that the tribulation period starts with the signing of a covenant between Israel and Antichrist. We read in Daniel 9 that it will end after seven years at the second coming of the Lord.
Now if you want to study in great detail an exposition of those tribulation days, read Revelation 6 through to 19. If David puts up the second slide there, you'll see what you've got on the back of your study sheet that really details what will go on in some kind of a general way during that tribulation period. Now if you read Revelation 6 to 19, you will read of all these seal judgments, of the trumpet judgments, of the bowl or vial judgments, the beginning of birth pangs, the time of Jacob's trouble - and you will find that none of those things have ever been fulfilled in the history of humanity. It has never ever happened!
Now you'll get an exposition in Revelation 6 to 19, but the time framework is found in Daniel 9:24-27, a framework for what is called Daniel's 70th week, which is this seven-year tribulation period. Daniel was informed by God that God had appointed 70 weeks to finish the transgression of the Jews - in other words, to bring the Jews finally to Himself for all eternity, 70 weeks. Now these were not 7-day weeks, all prophetic scholars agree on this: they were seven-year weeks. That means that the 70th week, the last week, lasts seven years. That is where we get the seven years of the Great Tribulation period.
So I hope we've answered the question of when it will take place, it is not something that has taken place in the past, whether you believe AD 70 or not; it cannot be anything that is now taking place because we are not going through any of these experiences that have been prophesied in Revelation 6 to 19 - therefore it is a future thing. There must be a futurist interpretation of the Great Tribulation.
Now here's perhaps the question that is foremost in many people of the world's minds: why must it happen? Why must the Great Tribulation happen? We've seen what it is, when it will take place, but why must it happen? Well, the simple answer to that question is: it is God's purpose to judge the world - judgment is at the forefront of the idea of the Great Tribulation. While at the same time God has in mind judgment, we find also within the book of the Revelation that the tribulation period will be a time when God, through various means, will hold forth the gospel of grace. Now this is hard for some of us to understand, but we'll understand it hopefully by the end of some of what we'll say under this heading of 'Why it must happen' in a few moments. The reason why God, first and foremost, must judge the earth is that this Great Tribulation period precedes the millennial reign of Christ. You remember this? He will come to the earth, and then He will bring in His reign for 1000 years. Therefore, before that reign, the Lord needs to put down rebellion of mankind of every shape and form, in preparation for Christ's reign of absolute righteousness. There needs to be a judgment before the Lord Jesus can reign in righteousness on the earth.
Now if I can summarise the purpose and the reason for the Great Tribulation period, why it must happen, into three for you - here they are. Here's the first: the first purpose of Tribulation is simply Gentile judgment. As I have said, before the Lord comes and reigns and rules for 1000 years in righteousness, He must judge the world in order to prepare for righteous rule. The first purpose of Tribulation is seen to be punishment in history, in human history, upon the whole world for its sins against God. If God just came in and took us all, as believers, away there would be no record on the earth that God had judged humanity for their sin historically. It is a judgment a bit similar to the judgment that came upon the earth during the flood of Noah. If you recall the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24, He actually cites Noah as an illustration: 'For there shall arise false Christs and false signs', and then we go on to read in verse 37 that 'as it was in the days of Noah, so it shall be at the coming of the Son of Man'. Just as the world was destroyed in a flood in those early days, the Lord in history, human history, will show His indignation towards man's sin.
We also read further that there will be more indications of Gentile judgment. In Deuteronomy 30 and verse 7, God told His own people way back there that He would punish their enemies as His enemies, and He would inflict all those curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. So during the tribulation period Gentile nations will be judged for their sinfulness, but they will also be judged according to how they have related toward the Jewish people upon the earth. One purpose of the Tribulation is for Gentile judgment - it has got nothing to do with the church of Jesus Christ in that regard.
The second purpose is this: worldwide evangelism. The Great Tribulation period will be a period of phenomenal evangelistic outreach - in fact, one unlike any other time in human history. The purpose is given in Revelation 7, if you want to read about it, but during the first half of the tribulation, the first three and a half years, we read in Revelation that God will evangelise the world. He will do it through various means - first He will do it through 144,000 Jews, and He will fulfil the prophecy that we read in Matthew 24 verse 14: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come". These, as someone has described them, 'Jewish Billy Sundays' will go around the whole world preaching the gospel of the kingdom in this mass evangelisation. If that's not enough for you, you read of two witnesses in the book of Revelation with supernatural powers, and they will provide a witness primarily to the nation of Israel. Finally we read, if you look with me at Revelation 14, at the midpoint of the tribulation, three and a half years into those seven years, we read in verse 6 of chapter 14: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people". This was not just for the Jews, but the everlasting gospel is being preached to all nations!
We read further in verse 8: 'And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication'. He announces the downfall of religious Babylon, economic Babylon, this world system has been judged by God and it's heralded in a message of evangelisation. Then in verses 9 to 11 we also read that God says He will use angels to preach the gospel and to warn earth dwellers, all earth dwellers, not to take the mark of the Beast - 666. Now again, in all of chapter 14, we don't see the church mentioned at all. There are Gentiles mentioned, there are Jews mentioned, there are evangelists of all shapes and forms, but the church is not there.
The first purpose of the tribulation is to judge Gentile nations, the second is worldwide evangelisation, and the third is the conversion of the Jews. I think this is one of the most glorious and important purposes. God, through evil influences and agencies, is preparing Israel, His ancient earthly people, for her conversion. By almost pummelling her into submission, He gets her to raise her eyes heavenward and to acknowledge that Jesus is Messiah - 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!', they will say. It will all culminate in the second coming of our Lord Jesus to the earth, but you've got to see that the major purpose of Jacob's - that is Israel's - trouble is to bring her back in conversion. Now we read within Ezekiel that first of all the Lord will start to bring Israel as an ethnic people back to her land, and that's already happening but it will be further realised during that period, for He says in Ezekiel 20:34: 'I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out'. He has already started to do it, in 1948 when Israel became a national state, and He's been doing it ever since - but it will all come to a head during this period. Once they're all gathered together the tribulation period shall begin, and God says in Ezekiel 20 to His people Israel: 'I shall make you pass under the rod'. So He brings them together to their land, He begins to judge them, and the purpose of judging them is to purge from them unbelieving Jews. Then we actually read in Zechariah 13 that only one third of those Jews will survive the fire and the judgmental wrath of God - imagine that! Only one-third, but the purpose and the goal of God is what we read in Romans 11 and verse 26 and 27, that after that purging of fire Paul says: 'And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins'. All Israel will be saved, just as it is written, the Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove all ungodliness from Jacob - 'this is my covenant with them, when I will take away their sin'.
Why this Great Tribulation? One, Gentile nations need to be judged; two, worldwide evangelisation in view of the millennium period coming upon the earth; but thirdly and perhaps primarily, the conversion of the Jews. But you see, in all these three categories, that the church is not found at all, for the tribulation is not for the church, it does not involve the church - because God's purpose for the tribulation are these three.
Now if we were to ask the fourth question: how will it unfold? We wouldn't even begin to have time to talk about it. As I've said, we read from Revelation 5 through to 19 all about it - but just to recap, if David goes to the first slide, we read in Revelation 5 to 19 first of all that God pours out these seven seal judgments as you see them on your sheet just up here, seven seal judgments. What He does, effectively, is He allows the devil to reign upon the earth, a reign of unrighteousness - it doesn't mean God's not in control, but He allows the devil to run riot. Then we read that He pours out these seven vial judgments at the end of the tribulation period. Then He destroys the world's religious systems that we read about in Revelation 17; He destroys the world's political and economic systems; He defeats sinners and Satan and Armageddon at the end of the tribulation period; and then He condemns the antichrist and the false prophet to hell.
But there's more: there are seven seal judgments, I mentioned them, and the seven trumpet judgments. The first seven seal judgement is what we read of the white horse of the apocalypse, it is simply a false peace that will come over the earth because of this covenant that Israel signs with Antichrist. Then we read of the red horse of the apocalypse, which will be a hot war upon all the earth that the world has never seen before. The third seal judgment is the black horse, a famine that will come upon all the earth because of that war and the expense of it. The fourth will be a pale horse of widespread death by war, by starvation from the famine, by wild beasts roaming across the whole earth. The fifth seal is the cry of the martyrs; the sixth is the greatest earthquake that this world has ever seen, and the cosmic disturbances described in Matthew 24 and elsewhere that have never been witnessed before in the skies.
The seventh seal is these seven trumpet judgments that we read of in Revelation. The first trumpet judgment is that a third of all vegetation on the earth will be destroyed. The second is a third of ocean life and ships will be destroyed. The third is that a third of freshwater will be polluted and poisoned. The fourth is a third of the sun, the moon, and the stars will be darkened. The fifth is the first ever in the history of the earth hellish invasion of demons poured out upon the globe. The sixth is a second hellish invasion of demons. There are the seven vial judgments that I have mentioned, but just to say that all of these comprise together to make up the Great Tribulation Period on the earth, the flipsis megala that the Lord Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:21 - a time on the earth, if you took all the holocausts and disasters and combined them, there has never been a time to compare to this one or to surpass it! That is how it will unfold, well might it be called 'The Great Tribulation Period'!
Let's look finally at who it will involve. Well, again we don't have time, and in the nature of this series it's only possible to give you a general resume of all these subjects night after night. If you were to read the whole of the book of Revelation you will find that this tribulation period involves the nations, it involves the Holy Spirit although He will be taken away in the capacity which He came at Pentecost - don't believe what is taught at times that the Holy Spirit goes, He doesn't go, He is still here. Satan will be chiefly involved and a prime mover and actor in this whole scene of the Great Tribulation; Antichrist will be here, his sidekick the false prophet; these 144,000 Jewish evangelists; the two special preachers and witnesses for Christ; the tribulation saints - those who will believe, many of them being martyred, many out of every tongue, people, tribe and nation who have washed their robes in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be this multitude of demonic activity, and even special angels that will come and announce upon the earth God's purposes and sovereign judgments.
Can I just say, as I pause for a moment tonight, the most terrifying thing as I have been looking at this today in great detail before God, the most terrifying thing about the Great Tribulation period for me is that if you, my friend, are without Christ you will be there! Allow the import of that truth to sink into your mind and into your heart: you will experience all of this that the Scriptures speak of being poured upon the earth for seven years! Is it any wonder that the prophet says: 'Flee from the wrath to come!' - run!
Who will be there? Well, the world will be there, those who are unsaved - and that brings upon us as believers a great responsibility to do, first and foremost, something towards them, warn them - the world should be warned about this great day of God's wrath that's going to be poured upon the earth! If they're not saved they will not be raptured, and if they're not raptured they will face all of this! The second thing that should be done in the light of who will be involved in this: the church of Jesus Christ should be winning the lost. The world ought to be warned, but we as God's people ought to be winning the lost - for who knows who will believe the lie, who will take the mark of the Beast and follow the Antichrist - none of us knows who in the world among our friends or relatives or neighbours or work colleagues, so we as God's people in the light of these events ought to be out and winning people for the Lord Jesus Christ!
The world should be warned, the church should be winning, and thirdly the saints - you and I personally - should be waiting, should be watching, because our Lord is coming. Don't forget - if David could put up the chart of pre-millennialism - that we as God's people, we do not look to these passages of Scripture in waiting and watching for the Lord Jesus, those that we've mentioned tonight. We made a comparison of them in our last week. We look to 1 Thessalonians 4, we look to John chapter 14, we look to these Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15 that speak of a great day of hope, a great day of comfort, a great day of delight when the Lord Jesus shall come for us and we shall go to be with Him rather than He come to the earth in judgment.
Maybe you don't see that distinction, can I recite you a few verses that I think clearly teaches? We have looked at the weight of evidence concerning the fact that this day will come upon the earth, here's the evidence to show that we will not experience it - Romans 5:9: 'Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him'; 1 Thessalonians 1 and verse 10, listen, we as God's people are to be waiting 'for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus', watch this, 'which delivered us from the wrath to come'. Can it be any clearer? What about this one? 1 Thessalonians 5 and verse 9: 'God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ'. In Revelation 3 and verse 10 He says to the church at Philadelphia: 'Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of tribulation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth'.
My friend, the weight of the evidence of Scripture is simply this: the early believers in Christ were not looking for something to happen that we've been talking about this evening, they were looking for Someone to come - the Lord Jesus!
During the early days of World War II a little group of passengers were shipwrecked on a Pacific desert island in the middle of that great ocean. After many weary months a passing ship saw their plight and sent a boat ashore, but the boat didn't land at once - one of the sailors threw a bundle of newspapers on the beach. You wouldn't imagine that would be the first thing that they would want, rather they were looking for a lifeline. But that sailor that threw the bundle of papers onto the beach shouted that they were from the Captain, and he said these words: 'After you've read these papers, he wants to know whether you want to be rescued after all. When you find out what's going on in the world, do you want to get off your desert island?'. Isn't it wonderful tonight, in all of the light of the scriptural teaching that we found tonight on the Great Tribulation period: our rescue as believers in Christ will be literally out of this world! We will go! Who in their right mind wouldn't want to go!
Last night after the Gospel meeting a brother in Christ said to me: 'Isn't it great to be saved?'. My friend, after all that we have seen within the Scriptures regarding what's going to come upon this world in the not too distant future - and who knows only the Lord Jesus Christ - isn't it wonderful to be saved? We are not appointed unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come. Glory to His name!
Can I ask you, believer tonight, are you warning folk in the world of what is going to come upon them? Are you winning the lost for our Lord Jesus Christ? Where you are in your home, in your business, in your occupation - are you waiting and are you watching, for in such an hour as ye think not your Lord doth come! May God bless His word to our hearts this evening.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third tape in his 'Crucial Questions About Christ's Return' series, titled "Tribulation: Now Or Never?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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