I. Overview of the Tribulation
The “Tribulation” is an often talked about but seldom understood end-time event. The study of end times is called eschatology. And if you are like most people understanding the terminology and events of eschatology can be challenging.
In this article, I hope to demystify one of the most important eschatological events, the Tribulation.
Fact 1: Definition of the Tribulation
The Tribulation refers to a seven-year period of God-sent devastating judgments associated with other end-time events. It includes many persons, places, and events that most people have heard about but don’t know where they fit into end times. For example, you have heard of:
- The four horsemen of the Apocalypse
- The seven seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments (Dan. 9:20-27; Rev. 4-19)
- Satan, the Antichrist, the False Prophet and the “mark of the beast”
- The “Great Tribulation” (Matt. 24:21)
- The Battle Armageddon
I hope you are getting excited to learn about these things!
Fact 2: Reasons the Tribulation is Necessary
As we delve deeper into the judgments that God sends against humans, you may wonder, “Why does God have to be so severe? I thought God is “love” (1 John 4:16)? Your characterization of God is only partly right. God has many other attributes, including being infinitely holy (1 Pet. 1:15; 1 John 1:5). He demands justice for the sins against him by those who choose to reject him.
Therefore, the Tribulation must accomplish at least two aspects of God’s plan.
- Firstly, to complete His discipline of the nation, Israel calling them to repentance ( Dan. 9:24). The Tribulation is known as the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), meaning the Tribulation is necessary for Israel.
- Secondly, to judge the unbelieving humans who reject God (Jer. 25:30–32; 2 Thes. 2:12; Rev. 6-18).
Yet throughout the Tribulation, God still offers the opportunity for salvation (Matt. 25:31–46; Rev. 19:11–16). As a result:
- A great multitude will come to believe in Jesus (Rev. 7:9)
- But those who don’t will be eternally condemned to hell (Rev. 20:15)
Fact 3: The Tribulation Unique for Two Reasons
The Tribulation is unique in its scope and intensity.
- Firstly, the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments will affect the whole world (Rev. 3:10; 6:1-8:1; 8:6-11:18; 16:1-21)
- Secondly, in his Olivet discourse, Jesus described the Great Tribulation as a time of incomparable trouble. The intense calamities will nearly decimate all life (Matt. 24:15-22; cf. Dan 12:1; Rev. 2:22; 7:14).
Unlike any time in history, during the Tribulation, humans:
- Will know the world is coming to an end
- Would rather die than live (Rev. 6:16)
Fact 4: The Occurrence of the Tribulation
All Christians believe the Tribulation occurs before Jesus’ Second Coming.
Beyond that, Christians differ depending on their millennial view. The Millennium is the 1000 years referred to in Revelation 20:2-6. Christians debate whether Jesus’ Second Coming is before or after the Millennium.
Let me explain. There are three main millennial views.
- Premillennialism believes that Jesus’ Second coming occurs before his 1000-year reign on earth. There are three different premillennial views (see below). They differ depending on the chronology between the Rapture and Tribulation.
- Postmillennialism claims the “Millennium” is symbolic. During the Millennium, the world will continually get better. Eventually, believers will fully Christianized the world, and then Jesus will return.
- Amillennialism thinks the Millennium is symbolic. It represents the “Church age” that began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), ending at Jesus’ Second Coming.
Of the three millennial views, premillennialism is most closely related to the Tribulation.
1. Premillennial Views on the Tribulation
There are three premillennial views. They differ on the timing of the Rapture to the Tribulation.
What is the Rapture? It
- Is Jesus removing and transforming all living and dead Christians from the earth (1 Thes. 4:13–18; 1 Cor. 15:51–54)
- May occur before, midway through, or after the Tribulation
The three premillennial views are divided between dispensational and historic premillennialism
Dispensational premillennialism views:
- Pretribulational premillennialism claims the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation and Millennium
- Midtribulational premillennialism believes the Rapture occurs midway in the Tribulation
- Posttribulational premillennialism is the third premillennial view. It asserts that the Rapture occurs after the Tribulation
2. Postmillennial and Amillennial Views on the Tribulation
Postmillennialism does not believe that the Tribulation is a singular seven-year event. Instead, it symbolizes all the trials, challenges, and persecution believers have endured throughout history.
Amillennialism believes the Tribulation is the persecution faced by Asian Christians of John’s time, symbolic of trials throughout history.
On the other hand, some postmillennialists and amillennialists have a similar view of the “Great Tribulation.” They consider it a brief, indefinite period at the end of this age. They usually identify it with the revolt of Gog of Magog in Revelation 20:8–9.
Fact 5: Important Persons in the Tribulation
1. Godly Persons:
- The two witnesses have a powerful testimony. They perform wondrous signs during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation (Rev. 11:1–6)
- 144,000 Jewish “sealed” witnesses who draw many to Jesus during the first half of the Tribulation (Rev. 7:1–8; 14:5)
- A “remnant” of believers who flee to the wilderness. God protects them during the Great Tribulation. They survive the Tribulation and enter the Millennium in unresurrected bodies (Rev. 12:6, 14-16)
- Tribulation martyrs killed by the Antichrist and ecumenical one-world church (Rev. 6:9-11)
2. Evil Persons (Rev. 4-18)
- Satan is referred to as the dragon, serpent of old, and the devil (Rev. 12:9)
- The Antichrist (1 John 2:18) is also known as the “little horn” (Dan. 7:8, 24–25), “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3), and the beast (Rev. 11:7; 13:1; 17:11; 19:20)
- The False Prophet is called the “second beast” (Rev. 13:11-17). He is the Antichrist’s lieutenant
- Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet make up the “unholy trinity”
II. The First Half of the Tribulation
Fact 6: Antichrist Signs Treaty with Israel
The Antichrist will rise to great political power (Dan. 7:8–26; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 13:1–9; 17:8–14). He eventually leads a ten-nation “revived Roman Empire” (Dan. 7; Rev. 17:12-13).
The Tribulation begins when the Antichrist signs a seven-year treaty with Israel (Daniel 9:27).
- This treaty guarantees protection to Israel
- The Jews rebuild the temple on the Temple Mount during the first half of the Tribulation (2 Thess. 2:4)
- Faithful Jews are allowed to perform sacrifices (Dan. 9:27)
Fact 7: Seven Seal Judgements
Although the Tribulation begins with a promise of political peace, it’s all a façade. It sets off a series of God’s judgments against the world.
John is taken to heaven. He sees Jesus on his throne and watches as he opens a seven-sealed scroll (Rev. 4:1-6:11; 18:1-6).
- John gives a detailed description of the seal judgments in detail (Rev. 6:1-17; 18:1)
- Jesus also gave a basic outline of the seal judgments in his Mount Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:4-31)
- The seal judgments will gradually grow in intensity as the first half of the Tribulation progresses
- They include war, famine, natural disasters, and the persecution of believers
1. First seal judgment
Jesus opens the first of the seven-sealed scroll. And a white horse that is ridden by the Antichrist (False Messiah) appears (Rev. 6:1–2; cf. Matt. 24:4–5).
- The Antichrist is the leader of the Western coalition of ten nations.
- In the opening months of the Tribulation, the Antichrist establishes a one-world government. He does this using diplomacy and the promise of peace
2. Second seal
In this judgment, the red horse represents a great world war(Rev. 6:3–4; cf. Matt. 24:6–7)
3. Third seal
The third judgment is the Black Horse and is still probably in the first year of the Tribulation. It brings famine, inflation, and poverty to the world. (Rev. 6:5–6; cf. Matt. 24:7). These are a result of the great world war (the second seal judgment)
4. Fourth seal
The fourth seal is a pale horse ridden by Death with Hades close behind. One-fourth of the population of the earth is destroyed by war, famine, disease, and wild beasts (Rev. 6:7–8; cf. Matt. 24:7–8)
5. Fifth Seal
The vantage of the fifth seal is in heaven. John sees innumerably martyred Christians. They have been killed by the Antichrist and ecumenical church (Rev. 17:6) because of their testimony (Rev. 6:9–11; cf. Matt. 24:9–11). The martyrs:
- Come from all nations
- Were saved during the Tribulation (Rev. 7:9-10)
If you are a pretribulational premillennialist, you believe that all living Christians are removed from the earth (Raptured) before the Tribulation. So you may reasonably ask:
- “Without Christians, how will anyone be saved during the Tribulation and its one-world false religious system (“Great harlot”) (Rev. 17:1–6)?”
a. Sources of Evangelism in the Tribulation (Rev. 7:1-12; 11:3-14)
There are two primary sources of evangelism during the first half of the Tribulation to all the nations
Firstly, there are the “two witnesses” (Rev. 11:3-14). They are like Moses and Elijah. They preach and witness during the first half of the Tribulation.
- Their spectacular ministry has the power to kill their enemies with fire
- They can prevent rain, turn water into blood, and bring plagues on the earth as often as they wish (Rev. 11:5-6)
- Their frequent use of these powers will add to the general devastation
- The witnesses are invincible for the first half of the Tribulation. But God allows the Antichrist (Beast) to kill them after they have finished their work (Rev. 11:7)
Secondly are the 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7:1–8).
- These believers are saved through the “two witnesses”
- They also have access to Bibles and Christian books that are left behind
- They are “sealed” during their service to God. Being sealed means God protects them from harm (Rev. 7:4–8)
Therefore, the evangelism of the whole world (Matt. 24:14) will come from the following:
- The two witnesses
- 144,000 Jewish witnesses
- Other Christians (including the martyred saints)
- Bibles and Christian material that was left behind
These sources will convert an innumerable number of Tribulation Christians (Rev. 7:9-10)
6. Sixth Seal
This judgment unleashes six catastrophic events (Rev. 6:12–17; cf. Matt. 24:29):
- A single great earthquake
- The sun turns black
- The moon turns blood red
- A devastating meteor shower
- All mountains and islands move
- The sky vanishes like a rolled-up scroll
These judgments produce terror in all humans.
- They realize extinction is imminent and prefer death to living (Rev. 6:16)
- But there will be no widespread turning to God
As awful as the seal judgments are, they are only the beginning. The trumpet and bowl judgments are coming.
7. Seventh Seal
Jesus opens the seventh seal. And there is silence in heaven. The silence lasts about half an hour (Rev. 8:1-2). After this silence comes seven trumpet judgments during the last half of the Tribulation. The three- and one-half years is called the Great Tribulation. The last three trumpet judgments are called “woes” (Rev. 8:7–9:21; 11:15–19).
Fact 7: The Battle of Gog of Magog
Gog of Magog refers to an end-time war. It involves a confederation of nations against Israel (Ezek. 38–39). The countries involved were initially populated by Japheth and Ham descendants (Gen. 10:2-7)
- This alliance includes contemporary Russia and other nations (Ezek. 38:5-6)
- This seemingly invincible confederation will invade and conquer Israel like a cloud (Ezek. 38:16)
- But God will miraculously intervene, destroying Israel’s enemies (Ezek. 38:21–39:7)
- God’s supernatural intervention saves Israel. But it also clears the way for the Antichrist’s plan.
Pretribulational premillennialists debate the timing of the battle. It could occur either:
- Before the Rapture of the Church and Tribulation
- After the Rapture but before the Tribulation begins. This view is based on the amount of time needed to burn the enemy’s weapons (seven years) (Ezek.39:9–10). Therefore, the battle has to be fought before the seven-year Tribulation
- Before the middle of the Tribulation, this view hinges on Israel being attacked when they are at peace. This time is most likely during the peace treaty with Antichrist (Dan. 9:27; Ezek. 38:8, 11)
III. The Middle of the Tribulation
Fact 8: Satan is Thrown Out of Heaven
Satan, the accuser, is permanently cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7–13).
- The devil knows his time is short
- He resolves to do everything in his power to thwart God’s plans
- Satan’s power is behind the acts of the Antichrist, and the devil will use the beast to the full
Fact 9: Antichrist Slays the Two Witnesses
The first act of the Antichrist in the middle of the Tribulation is to kill the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3–13).
- He leaves their bodies in the streets of Jerusalem
- Their death leads to widespread rejoicing (Rev 11:10)
- But after three and a half days, their bodies are resurrected and, at God’s command, ascend to heaven (Rev. 11:11-12)
- After this, an earthquake destroys one-quarter of the city, killing 7000 people. The remaining survivors will be terrified and give glory to God (Rev. 11:13)
Fact 10: The Antichrist Breaks Treaty with Israel and Desecrates Temple
About halfway through the seven years, the Antichrist will
- Break his covenant with Israel, resulting in worldwide persecution of Israel and Christians (Dan. 9:27; 12:1, 11; Zech. 11:16; Matt. 24:15, 21; Rev. 12:13; 13:7).
- Cause the sacrifices and offerings to cease (Dan. 9:27).
- Desecrate the rebuilt Jewish temple by setting up an image of himself (the abomination of desolation) ( 9:17; Matt. 24:15-16)
- Demand worldwide worship (2 Thess. 2:3-10; Rev. 13:5-7, 11-18)
Fact 11: Antichrist Destroys the One-world Ecumenical Church (“Great Harlot”), Dies, and is “Resurrected”
The Antichrist and ten-nation confederation will destroy the ecumenical church (17:1-18).
- During his war on the one-world church, the Antichrist is mortally wounded and restored to life (Rev. 13:1-3)
- The False Prophet (Rev. 13:12) through Satan revives a created image of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1-15)
- The Antichrist’s resurrection leaves unbelievers in awe (Rev. 13:4)
Once restored, the Antichrist pursues his ungodly agenda (Rev. 13:5–7). He will:
- Blaspheme God’s name, the temple, and all who dwell in heaven (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:6).
- Persecute both Jews and believers for 42 months (Matthew 24:9–24; Rev. 7:14; 12:6, 13–17; 13:5, 7)
IV. The Last Half of the Tribulation: “The Great Tribulation” (Rev. 7:14)
The second half of the Tribulation is known as “the Great Tribulation” (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14) and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7).
The Satanically led Antichrist intensifies his persecution of Israel (Rev. 12:13–17).
- But God protects a “remnant” of believers from Satan. They flee to the wilderness for the last three- and one-half years ( 24:15-16; Rev. 12:6, 14-16)
- As a result, Satan focuses his fury on the remaining believers (Rev. 12:17; 13:7)
Fact 12: False Prophet Demands the “Mark of the Beast” to Do Business
The False Prophet seizes worldwide economic control.
- To do business, people must take the “mark of the beast” (Rev. 13:16–18)
- This mark is the number of the Antichrist, “666” (Rev. 13:18)
Christians who do not take the mark of the Antichrist:
- Cannot buy or sell (Rev. 13:16–18)
- Are martyred for their faith(Rev. 13:7-8)
On the other hand, God has spared a faithful remnant. They fled into the wilderness during the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:15-16; Rev. 12:6, 14-16). These believers will be alive at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 12:6, 14-16). These post-tribulation saints:
- Will enter the Millennium in unresurrected bodies
- Will be able to produce children during the Millennium. Raptured Christians in resurrected bodies cannot reproduce (cf. Matt. 22:30)
- Are the “sheep” of the “Sheep and Goat” Judgment, also known as the “Judgment of the Nations” (Matt. 25:31-46)
Next, God pours out his trumpet and bowl judgments.
Fact 13: Seven Trumpet Judgments
The Seven Trumpet judgments (Rev. 8–9; 11:15-19) come out of the seventh seal (Rev. 8:1). The seven trumpets occur during the Great Tribulation (last 3- and one-half years). By the seventh trumpet, the end of the Tribulation is imminent (Rev. 11:15).
1. First Trumpet Judgment
One-third of the earth’s vegetation (trees and grass) is destroyed by hail, fire, and blood. Famine will follow (Rev. 8:7).
2. Second Trumpet Judgment
With the second trumpet judgment, one-third of the sea turns to blood. As a result, one-third of sea life dies, and one-third of sea vessels are destroyed (Rev. 8:8–9).
3. Third Trumpet Judgment
The third trumpet judgment involves a vast “star” (meteor) named “Wormwood.” This meteor pollutes one-third of the world’s fresh water. As a result, many die from the contamination (Rev. 8:10–11).
4. Fourth Trumpet Judgment
The fourth trumpet judgment leads to:
- One-third less sunlight, moonlight, and starlight, shortening the standard 24-hour day-night cycle to sixteen hours
- An angel flies around the earth, warning that worse judgments called the “woes” are yet to come (Rev. 8:12–13; cf. Luke 21:25)
5. Fifth Trumpet Judgment (First Woe)
The fifth trumpet judgment introduces the first woe: demonic scorpion-like locusts attacking and torturing humans. But even though humans may seek death through suicide, they cannot commit it (Rev. 9:1–12).
6. Sixth Trumpet Judgment (Second Woe)
The sixth trumpet (second woe) unleashes 200 million demonic horsemen (Rev. 9:16). They will kill one-third of the earth’s population. The remaining humans will not turn to God. They only harden their hearts against him (Rev. 9:13-21).
Seventh Trumpet Judgment (Third Woe):
The seventh trumpet judgment (third woe) occurs in the last weeks or months of the Tribulation and indicates Christ’s impending reign and seven bowl judgments (Rev. 11:15–21).
Fact 14: The Seven Bowl Judgments (Rev. 15–16)
The seventh trumpet judgment introduces the seven bowl judgments (Rev. 12-18). The bowl judgments:
- Are the most severe judgments
- Occur at the very end of the seven-year Tribulation
- Are poured at one time (Rev. 16:1)
This sixth bowl judgment ends in the battle of Armageddon (16:13–16) described in Revelation 19. Armageddon ends with Christ and his heavenly armies destroying his opponents.
1. First Bowl Judgment
The first bowl judgment afflicts all Antichrist followers bearing his mark (Rev. 16:2). They experience painful and harmful (possibly cancerous) sores and curse God (Rev. 16:8). These sores will remain until the fifth bowl judgment (Rev. 16:11) because the Antichrist cannot cure them.
2. Second Bowl Judgment
The second bowl judgment results in all oceans (72% of earth’s surface) turning to blood. Every living thing in the sea dies (Rev 16:3).
3. Third Bowl Judgment
The third bowl judgment results in all freshwaters turning to blood. Both metaphorically and literally, those who spill the blood of Jesus’ followers must drink blood (Rev16:4-7).
4. Fourth Bowl Judgment
The fourth bowl judgment involves the sun’s heat intensifying and scorching humans (Rev. 16:8-9). Despite this, unbelievers do not repent.
5. Fifth Bowl Judgment
The fifth bowl judgment plunges the Antichrist’s capital and kingdom into supernatural darkness. His followers gnaw their tongues because of their pain and sores. Why? Because pain is always worse in the dark (Rev. 16:10-11). But rather than repent, these suffering and unsaved humans curse God.
6. Sixth Bowl Judgment
The sixth bowl judgment is preparation for Armageddon (Rev. 16:12-16; 19:11-20)
- Firstly, the Euphrates River dries up. This dry riverbed facilitates the easy and rapid crossing of armies as they rush to war
- Secondly, Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet send spirits to world leaders (Dan. 11:44). They assemble for the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:13-14, 16).
- A remnant will flee through the valley created by an earthquake.
The Antichrist leads two hundred million soldiers (Joel 3:2; 9-13). They cross the Euphrates into Israel (Rev. 9:13–21; 16:12–14) and capture Jerusalem (Zech. 12:1–3; 14:1–3).
There are three battlefields.
- The most famous battle is fought at Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). It is in the hill country surrounding the plain of Megiddo.
- Two other minor battles occur in Jerusalem (Zech. 4:12; 14:4) and Bozrah in Edom (Isa. 63:1–6).
But the Antichrist’s armies are not attacking Israel alone. They are warring against Jesus and his heavenly army (Rev 17:14; 19:11-14).
As a result, Jesus:
- Returns in great glory to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4)
- Saves Israel by decimating its enemies (Zech. 12:4–9, 12, Rev. 19:15-20), resulting in unimaginable carnage (Rev. 14:20; 19:17–18).
- Sends the Antichrist and his armies into the lake of fire (19:11–21)
- Restores “the house of David” (Zech. 12:8)
7. Seventh Bowl Judgment
The seventh bowl judgment includes worldwide destruction (Rev. 16:17-21).
There will be unheard of natural catastrophes with the cry from God’s throne, “It is done!” (Rev. 16:17-21). These natural disasters include:
- The largest earthquake of all time. It splits Jerusalem into three parts and collapses cities worldwide
- Islands and mountains disappearing
- Hailstones weighing 100 pounds falling
The judgments have continually increased in severity. By the end of the seventh bowl judgment, the Tribulation will be over.
Tragically, despite the judgments, unbelievers continue to curse God. They will not repent (Rev. 16:9, 11).
John’s Vision of the Six “Dooms” (Rev. 17-20)
Following the bowl judgments, John is given a vision by one of the seven angels who poured out a bowl judgment.
John sees God pronouncing six dooms on:
- False religion (Rev. 17)
- Commercial and governmental “New World Order” (Rev. 18:1-24; 19:11-19)
- The Antichrist and the False Prophet are cast into the lake of fire after Armageddon (Rev. 19:20-21)
- Jesus initially binds Satan for the Millennium. Christ briefly releases Satan after the Millennium but quickly defeats him again. Jesus casts him into the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:1–10)
- Nations that are deceived after Satan’s release from his Millennial bondage (Rev. 20:7-9)
- Unbelievers who condemned to the Lake of Fire at the final Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15)
Fact 15: Events Following the Tribulation
Premillennialists believe that Jesus’ Second Coming precedes his 1000-year reign on earth. At his return, Christ will fulfill his unconditional covenants to Israel, including:
- Abrahamic covenant of land (Genesis 15:18–21; 17:8), descendants (Gen. 12:2; 15:5; 17:2–5), and being a blessing (Gen. 12:3)
- Davidic covenant of everlasting kingship in which Messiah Jesus will reign (2 Sam. 7:12-16.)
- New Covenant with Israel (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:7-8)
Fact 16: New Heaven and New Earth
Jesus’ Second Coming, Satan’s defeat, and the Great White Throne Judgment occur at the very end of time. After these events, God replaces the old sin-cursed heaven and earth (2 Pet. 3:10) with a new heaven and new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-50) for believers.
- It will be the permanent home for believers (Rev. 21:3)
- There will be no curse, sin, suffering, sorrow, or death (Rev. 21:4)
V. What’s Your Next Step?
The events of the Tribulation are frightening. But not for Christians. Instead, we should be hopeful and convicted (Dan. 12:9-12).
As we eagerly await Jesus’ Second Coming should want to evangelize others attractively. Why? Because knowing what lies ahead for non-Christians in the Tribulation should make us grieve missed opportunities to share the gospel.
If we believe God’s word and know of his love for the lost, we, too, should want others to avoid the Tribulation judgments.
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