Events of the Tribulation: The First Three and a Half Years (Part 2)
During the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will be involved in two primary activities: First, he will take part in starting that period known as the Tribulation. Since the United States will no longer be able to provide Israel protection and guarantee her safety, Israel will need to look for protection elsewhere. The Antichrist will step in and fill the power vacuum created by the collapse of the United States. As a result, Israel and the Antichrist will sign a covenant in which the Antichrist guarantees Israel protection and her independence. The signing of this covenant marks the beginning of the Tribulation period.
Second, after the start of the Tribulation and prior to the end of the first half, the Antichrist will be consolidating his power and rule over the confederation of Western nations (the revived Roman Empire). It is precisely because the Antichrist is such a powerful and influential individual, and because his power and influence continue to grow, that Israel feels he can provide them with what the United States did previously.
Revelation 13:3–4 tells us that the Antichrist is killed: “One of its heads appeared to be fatally wounded.” Among the first things Satan does on the earth after being cast out of heaven is to resurrect the Antichrist: “But its fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against it?”
After his death and resurrection, the Antichrist consolidates his global rule by killing three of the ten kings, causing the other seven to willfully submit to him. This event provides the political basis from which the Antichrist will project his power during the last half of the Tribulation.
The ten horns are ten kings who will rise from this kingdom. Another king, different from the previous ones, will rise after them and subdue three kings. (Daniel 7:24)
The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. (Revelation 17:12–13)
As the Antichrist reaches his goal of total political control, he betrays and destroys those who helped him reach that point. He also destroys the harlot, Ecclesiastical Babylon.
The ten horns you saw, and the beast, will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire. (Revelation 17:16)
Midway through the Tribulation, the Antichrist will break the seven-year covenant he had made with Israel.The breaking of the covenant will involve Antichrist’s military invasion of Israel.
Not only does the Antichrist break his covenant with Israel, he will set himself up as God to be worshipped in the Jewish Temple. This defiling act of the Third Temple is called “the abomination of desolation.” This will be a sign to the Jews to flee Jerusalem.
He will make a firm covenantwith many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the templeuntil the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator. (Daniel 9:27)
So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15–16)
He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
The False Prophet
In the first three and a half years, we also see the rise of the False Prophet. Because he is temporarily empowered to do false signs, wonders, and miracles, which greatly aid the Antichrist’s rise to power, the False Prophet is a counterfeit of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. False religion is the vehicle of deception for this second beast—the False Prophet.
Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. It also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. It deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that it is permitted to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. It was permitted to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (Revelation 13:11–15)
The False Prophet will be administering the famous mark of the beast: 666. Placement of this mark on the forehead or right hand will be required to buy or sell during the second half of the Tribulation (the mark will not be administered during the first half of the Tribulation). No one who receives this mark of the beast can be saved. The meaning of 666 is a mystery, but its meaning will be clear to believers during the tribulation.
And it makes everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a person. Its number is 666. (Revelation 13:16–18)
What will the religious landscape look like during that time? The most significant event occurring prior to and after the beginning of the Tribulation period is the Rapture. The church is with her Lord.
Let us consider such a religious landscape:
- There is the return of the Jews to its ancient Levitical worship system.
- The major religions and cults that were present prior to the start of the Tribulation period will still be in existence during this period, while occultism will most likely be on the rise.
- In Revelation chapter 17, we find a great deal of information regarding an apostate church which grows in power and influence. This apostate church is regarded as an unfaithful woman (a harlot) who claims loyalty to Christ but is unfaithful to Him. It is an extremely wealthy church who severely persecutes those who are true followers of Jesus Christ and exercises a great deal of political power. “The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet” (17:3) clearly indicates that this apostate church will have close ties with the Antichrist. She is described as the “Mother of Prostitutes” (plural), which suggests that this religious system is ecumenical in scope, bringing under her power and influence other religious systems and groups. This apostate church is responsible for the death of many true believers during this period: “Then I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (17:6). This ecumenical religious system apparently is centered in Rome, since it is identified with the city that was ruling the world in the apostle John’s day: “This calls for a mind that has wisdom. ‘The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings’” (17:9). Her relationship with Antichrist will come to an end when she is destroyed by him and his followers.
The ten horns you saw, and the beast, will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled. (Revelation 17:16–17)
According to verses 4-5, midway through the Tribulation, the world will be worshipping both Satan and the Antichrist. All the false religions and cults that had been present and, in some cases, flourishing cease to exist.
They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against it?” The beast was given a mouth to utter boasts and blasphemies. It was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. (Revelation 13:4–5)
Her destruction must occur towards the end of the first half because we know that midway through the Tribulation period, the Antichrist will set himself up and require all people to worship him.
At the Rapture, all true believers will vanish from the earth, and therefore the church is no longer here to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit remains active in regenerating people (after the Rapture, it is the Spirit’s ministry of restraining sin that is removed). God will save individuals who proclaim the gospel all over the world. We have already discussed the primary reasons for the Tribulation, and we said that one of those reasons was the salvation of people. Scripture indicates that because of the events taking place in the world during that time, many will be saved and martyred for their faith (cf. Revelation 6:9–11; 17:6). The 144,000 mentioned in Revelation will probably come to faith during this time.
Other Power Blocs
During this period, other powerful alliances will exist or will be forming. Egypt will continue to be a strong and threatening nation until the Antichrist conquers her no later than midpoint.
Then at the time of the end, the king of the south will attack the king of the north. The king of the north will storm out with chariots, charioteers, and a vast navy. He will invade various lands and sweep through them like a flood. He will enter the glorious land of Israel, and many nations will fall, but Moab, Edom, and the best part of Ammon will escape. He will conquer many countries, and even Egypt will not escape. He will gain control over the gold, silver, and treasures of Egypt, and the Libyans and Ethiopians will be his servants. (Daniel 11:40–43 NLT)
Egypt is defeated and does not figure in any of the power blocs or wars of the last half of the Tribulation. A coalition will be forming among the nations of the East and will not actively take part in any of the events involving Palestine until the very end of the Tribulation.
In addition to the Western power bloc, another important power bloc will be that of Gog and Magog. The names listed in Ezekiel 38–39 are identified in Genesis 10:2 as the sons of Japheth. The Japhethites migrated after the Flood from Asia Minor to the north, beyond the Caspian and Black Seas. They settled in the area occupied today by Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. She will have with her as allies Persia (modern Iran), Ethiopia (northern Sudan), Put (Libya), Gomer (eastern part of Turkey and the Ukraine), and Togarmah (the part of Turkey near the Syrian border) (Ezekiel 38:5–6). This power bloc will come against Israel to destroy her, and the West will protest, but their protest will not keep the northern power bloc from moving against the Jews.
But Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish will ask, “Do you really think the armies you have gathered can rob them of silver and gold? Do you think you can drive away their livestock and seize their goods and carry off plunder?” … and you will attack my people Israel, covering their land like a cloud. At that time in the distant future, I will bring you against my land as everyone watches, and my holiness will be displayed by what happens to you, Gog. Then all the nations will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 38:13, 16)
God will intervene and destroy the northern power bloc forces as they come against Israel and attempt to invade her. They will be supernaturally defeated and destroyed. The armies of the north will be buried in Israel, and only then will Russia’s influence in the Middle East be ended.
Now on that day I will give Gog a burial place there in Israel—the Travelers’ Valley east of the Sea. It will block those who travel through, for Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called Hordes of Gog Valley. (Ezekiel 39:11)
The Little Scroll
Chapter 7 dealt parenthetically with the 144,000 and the many martyrs, without advancing chronologically the events of the Great Tribulation. Similarly 10:1–11:14 give additional information as a background to the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments.1
Kendell Easley concurs with Walvoord and adds,
After the first six seals were broken in Revelation 6, we were expecting immediately to move on to the seventh seal. Instead, we were held up by the two-part interlude recorded in chapter 7. (“Interlude A” was about the 144,000 sealed on earth before the Great Tribulation; “Interlude B” concerned the great multitude in heaven after the Tribulation.) This heightened our desire to learn what happened when the Lamb at last broke the seventh seal.
Now the pattern repeats. We are held up by a two-part interlude. “Interlude A” takes up all of chapter 10. Attention is on the prophetic Word of God in the first century (as experienced by John the prophet). “Interlude B” takes up Revelation 11:1–13. There the focus, as we will see, is the prophetic Word of God during the final tribulation.2
In Revelation 10:9-11, John is instructed by the voice from heaven to eat the scroll (he is to reflect on and understand the message). The content of the scroll is prophecy relating to the middle and second half of the Tribulation. When John ate the little scroll, it was both bitter and sweet. Remember that this book is the title deed to the universe. It contains the conditions and judgments of Christ that will be carried out when He reclaims His creation. When John had reflected on and understood its message, there was a sweetness about it, but in his stomach, it became bitter. There was the sweetness of the Lord in His glory of taking possession of His creation and putting things back as they are supposed to be. However, there was the bitterness associated with His judgment.
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. And they said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.”
The Tribulation Saints
Of these saints, J. B. Smith says,
That they are distinct from the church appears from the following considerations: Believers living at the time of the rapture of the church will have no place or part in the tribulation; these people will live during some of the tribulation days, be killed, and received into heaven. Those wear white garments (4:4); these white robes. Those sit on thrones round about the throne; these stand before the throne. Those wear crowns; these are uncrowned. Those have harps and vials; these have palms in their hands. Those sing a new song; these cry with a loud voice. Those are kings and priests and reign with Him; these serve Him day and night.3
Revelation 7 is a parenthesis prior to the opening of the seventh seal. It provides us with insight into the start of evangelistic activity and the fruit that activity bears during the Tribulation. It is a pause in the description of the events to spotlight a concentrated revelation on a special feature, in this case, the answer to the question of 6:17: “And who is able to stand?”
I introduced the Tribulation saints in chapter 8, where I wrote about the key figures of the Tribulation period. My main purpose for including information about them and their ministry here is contextual; I want to place them where they belong in the end-time chronology.
Though the Book of Revelation in its fulfillment of prophecy methodically moves through the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of the wrath of God in chronological sequence, some chapters of the Book of Revelation are parenthetic, that is, they view a subject without advancing the order of events in the Tribulation. Revelation 7 is one of these chapters. In chapter 6 there was chronological fulfillment as the first six seals were opened. Now the questions is raised as to whether anyone will be saved in the Great Tribulation.4
There are thousands of divine promises in scripture, and “every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus said in Matthew 5:18, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.”No promise is too hard for God to keep. In fact, there is not a single promise that He will not keep. That truth is beautifully illustrated in the first eight verses of Revelation 7.
Adrian Rogers states,
Many years ago, God made a promise to Abraham … “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 KJV).
God made this promise to Abraham two thousand years before John wrote the Book of Revelation (and two thousand years have passed since then!). Has God kept that promise? Yes! Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”(KJV). What does that mean? It means that if God says it, you can bank on it. Every family has been and will be blessed through Abraham. They may have refused the blessing, but it has come.
In Revelation 7, we learn that God’s promise to Abraham will be consummated with a unique group of 144,000. Various groups have claimed to be the 144,000—the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Sabbath Keepers, and one even called the Flying Roll. Some others say that this group is the New Testament church, which is spiritual Israel … but we must remember that God has not cast away His chosen people—the Israelites. The Bible teaches that this race of people will not pass away. The Jew will be here until Jesus comes. The nation of Israel cannot be obliterated. God’s promise will stand. You can bank on it.5
Verse 4 of chapter 7 starts revealing who these 144,000 individuals are:
And I heard the number of the sealed: 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the Israelites. (Revelation 7:4)
Who are these individuals? Again, it cannot be metaphorically referring to the church, since the context clearly indicates that it is referring to 144,000 Jewish men—12,000 from each tribe—who live during the future Tribulation period. Why reject the view that insists that the 144,000 represent the church, the spiritual Israel? First, nowhere in scripture is the word “tribe” used of anything but a literal ethnic group, and nowhere in scripture does a reference to twelve tribes of Israel mean anything other than, well, twelve tribes of Israel. You will never find the word Israel used for the church in the New Testament. Joseph Seiss argues,
As I read the Bible, when God says “children of Israel,” I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood, be they Christians or not; and when He speaks of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob, and gives the names of the tribes, it is impossible for me to believe that He means the Gentiles, in any sense or degree, whether they be believers or not. … I know of no instance in which the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel include the Gentiles.6
Second, if the Pre-Tribulational Rapture has already taken the church to be with Christ (see Revelation 4–5), how can the 144,000, who are on earth, be the church?
Third, notice how Jews and gentiles are clearly differentiated in Revelation 7. The first eight verses list for us the Jews, while the remaining verses talk about “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number.”
Jews and Gentiles in Revelation 7
|Revelation 7:1-8||Revelation 7:9-17|
|Jews “from every tribe of the Israelites”||Gentiles “from every nation, tribe, people, and language”|
|“144,000”||“A vast multitude … which no one could number”|
|“standing at the four corners of the earth”||“standing before the throne and before the Lamb”|
|Protected in the Tribulation, “who had the seal of the living God”||Ascended after persecution, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation”|
Fourth, the New Testament gives us a picture of the church with Jews and gentiles seen as one in the body of Christ (see Galatians 3:27–28; Ephesians 3:6). Revelation 7 gives us an inconsistent picture since it clearly differentiates both groups. The unity of the church in Galatians 3 and Ephesians 3 is not reflected in Revelation 7. What we see happening because of the Rapture is a return to a division of Jews and gentiles that existed prior to the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost.
David Jeremiah explains,
Our Savior was a Jew—however, the majority of Jews have not accepted Him. Even though many Jewish believers have a zealousness for the Lord that shames Gentiles, as a nation and a group they have been blinded to Him. This will end some day. Romans 11:25 says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.”
The nation of Israel has experienced a partial blindness toward Jesus Christ. Jews are still waiting for their Messiah to come. However, after all of the believers are removed by the Rapture, God’s special focus and blessing will shift back to Israel. During the millennial era the Jews will turn to Christ en masse. Spirit-filled Jewish evangelists will evangelize the whole world in seven years, a task their nation has not been able to accomplish in the past two thousand years.
We learn three truths about these individuals in this section of chapter 7. The 144,000 are
- selected (7:3-4),
- sealed (7:1-3; 9:4; 12:7; 14:1-5), and
- servants (7:3).
In Revelation chapter 14, we also learn that the 144,000 are
- redeemed (14:3),
- undefiled (14:4),
- faithful followers (14:4),
- truthful (14:5), and
- blameless (14:5).
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we learn that the 144,000 are preachers (Matthew 24:14).
We learn in Isaiah that God had appointed the Jews to be His original witnesses to the world:
I am the Lord. I have called you for a righteous purpose, and I will hold you by your hand. I will watch over you, and I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations. (Isaiah 42:6)
“You are my witnesses”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. No god was formed before me, and there will be none after me.” (Isaiah 43:10)
It is against this backdrop that we properly understand the 144,000 during the Tribulation period. God had intended for the Jews to be His representatives to the gentiles. Obviously, they failed, particularly when they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. It is during the Tribulation period when the 144,000 Jews are converted and fulfill the mandate God had given them. As a result, a great multitude of gentiles are saved, martyred for their faith, and added to the glorious company of the church when Jesus returns. Revelation 7 tells us that a mighty harvest will be reaped because of their work.
Revelation 14 tells us that the 144,000 will be divinely protected by God as they faithfully fulfill the mandate. Because of the faithful witness of the 144,000, there will be a great harvest of souls. “A vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” will be saved and clothed in white robes, signifying the righteousness of Christ.
1 John F. Walvoord, “Revelation” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1983), 954.
2 Kendell H. Easley, Revelation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998). Wordsearch.
3 Cited in Charles C, Ryrie, Revelation (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1968), 53.
4 John F. Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), 558.
5 Adrian Rogers, Unveiling the End Times in Our Time (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 97.
6 Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1964), 161.
7 David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1999), 203–204.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.
Copyright © 2006–2021 by Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D. and published by Reasons for Faith International Ministries, Inc. by permission. No part may be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright © 2006-2021 Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D.) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.