Eschatology Series: The Tribulation
What is the tribulation period? While on the earth, Christ warned his disciples that they would experience “trouble and suffering” as a consequence of following him and living in a fallen world (John 16:33). However, he also warned them of a “great tribulation” which the entire world would experience (Matt 24:21, cf. Rev 3:10). In it, God will judge the unbelieving world (2 Thess 2:11-12, Rev 3:10) and save a people who will worship him during Christ’s millennial kingdom (Zech 14:16, Matt 25:34). As part of that redeemed group, God will purify Israel and bring her to genuine faith in the messiah (Zech 13:8-9, 12:10, Jer 30:7, Rom 11:26-27). In Matthew 24:21-22 (ESV), Christ said this about the tribulation:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
In addition, after this period of tribulation, Christ will return to the earth to establish his millennial kingdom. In Matthew 24:29-30 (ESV), Christ said,
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Names of the Tribulation
What are some of the names of the tribulation in Scripture? There are many.
1. The tribulation is called the “day of the Lord.”
Especially in the Old Testament, this term is used of any time God judges a nation or nations; however, those are just precursors for when God ultimately judges the world in the end times. Zephaniah 1:18 says, “in the day of the Lord’s angry judgment. The whole earth will be consumed by his fiery wrath. Indeed, he will bring terrifying destruction on all who live on the earth.’” Also, Malachi 4:5-6 says,
Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.
2. The tribulation is called “the hour of testing.”
In Revelation 3:10, Christ said: “I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
3. The tribulation is called “Jacob’s trouble.”
This is because God will not only judge the unbelieving world during this period, but also do a special work in Israel, to purify her, and prepare her to accept the messiah (Zech 12:10, 14:3-4). Jeremiah 30:7 says, “Alas, what a terrible time of trouble it is! There has never been any like it. It is a time of trouble for the descendants of Jacob, but some of them will be rescued out of it.” Zechariah 13:8-14:2 says,
It will happen in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds of the people in it will be cut off and die, but one-third will be left in it. Then I will bring the remaining third into the fire; I will refine them like silver is refined and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ A day of the Lord is about to come when your possessions will be divided as plunder in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war; the city will be taken, its houses plundered, and the women raped. Then half of the city will go into exile, but the remainder of the people will not be taken away.
During this period, two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel will die, while one-third of them, God will purify through the time of testing. God will judge and purify Israel by bringing the nations of the world against her. Satan and the antichrist will have a role in judging Israel. Revelation 12 describes Satan as a dragon that pursues a woman who gave birth to a son who was taken to heaven. This refers to Satan’s persecution of Israel during the tribulation period; however, they will ultimately be saved. Revelation 12:13-16 says,
Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of—away from the presence of the serpent—for a time, times, and half a time. Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood, but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth.
Michael, the archangel, will have a role in protecting and delivering Israel during this time of tribulation. Daniel 12:1 says,
At that time Michael, the great prince who watches over your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress unlike any other from the nation’s beginning up to that time. But at that time your own people, all those whose names are found written in the book, will escape.
4. The tribulation is called Daniel’s 70th week.
What is Daniel’s 70th week? It comes from Daniel 9:24-27, which is often called “God’s Prophetic Time Clock” and “The Backbone of Bible Prophecy.”[i] As background, Daniel was praying about the future of Israel (Dan 9:1-3) when the angel, Gabriel, appeared and shared with Daniel about Israel’s future, including the coming of the messiah. Consider verse 25:
So know and understand: From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times.
When the angel referred to “weeks,” it could also be translated “sevens,” as in the NIV. This could mean seven days or years.[ii] Years makes the most sense, because the context deals with Israel’s long-term future including the coming of the messiah, and also because Daniel already had been thinking in terms of years (Israel’s seventy years of exile, Daniel 9:2). The angel Gabriel told Daniel that it would be seven sevens (49) plus sixty-two sevens (434) until the messiah comes. Altogether, that equals 483 years (49 + 434 = 483). From the issuance of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the messiah came would be 483 years. Gabriel adds that Jerusalem would be rebuilt in “distressful times.” The book of Nehemiah tells us that while Nehemiah led Israel in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, there was much persecution. In one scene, the Israelites did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other (Neh 4:17).
Though Israel was sent back to their land by Cyrus, the issuing of the decree to rebuild Israel was given by King Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in 444 B.C (Neh 2).[iii] When one takes into account that the Jewish calendar was 360 days and not 365 as ours is today, 483 years later would be 33 AD—right around the time of Christ’s death.[iv] After the 483 years, the messiah would be killed and “a people” would destroy Jerusalem and the temple (which happened in AD 70). Then, wars would continue in Israel until the end times. After the gap, there would be one final seven-year period—the 70th week of Daniel. At this point in history, the prophetic gap has lasted almost 2000 years.
Are prophetic gaps normal in Scripture? Yes, they are. In Isaiah 9:6, there is one. It says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” The child being born and the son being given was fulfilled in Christ’s first coming; however, the government resting on his shoulders won’t happen until his second coming. In the first coming, Christ was a prophet, priest, and sacrifice for the sins of the world. In the second coming, he will be a king who judges and rules the earth. Again, there is a prophetic gap of almost 2000 years, so far.
Now, let’s consider the final seven years of Daniel’s prophecy, which describes the tribulation period. Daniel 9:27 (NIV) says:
He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.
The “he” Daniel refers to is the antichrist—a powerful end-time figure who will be antagonistic toward God and his people. He will make a seven-year covenant with Israel. Since the context is “war will continue to the end” (9:26), this probably refers to some type of peace treaty. But, in the middle of the seven years, the antichrist will break that treaty by putting an end to the Jewish sacrificial and offering system. He will also set up an abomination at the temple until he experiences divine judgment. The future antichrist resembles the Syrian King, Antiochus, who did similar things to Israel during the intertestamental period, including putting an idol of Zeus in the temple, as prophesied in Daniel 11:21-35. Christ refers to the abomination, which will be set up in the temple in Matthew 24:15-16, “So when you see the abomination of desolation—spoken about by Daniel the prophet—standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” This is when the antichrist will unleash an assault specifically on the Jewish people. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, Paul refers to this act of the antichrist in the middle of the tribulation period as well.
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Therefore, Daniel’s 70th week is important, as it gives the timeline of the tribulation period. It will last seven years. In the middle of the seven years, the antichrist will break his covenant with Israel and put an idol in the Jewish temple. This seven-year time frame or half of it will be referred to several times in the book of Revelation (12:6, 14, 13:5, etc.).
5. The tribulation is called the seven-sealed book.
Revelation 5:1 says, “Then I saw in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne a scroll written on the front and back and sealed with seven seals.” In the context of Revelation 5, there is a search for someone worthy to open the seven-sealed book, which contains the tribulations’ judgments. After a thorough search, Christ, the lamb who was slain from the foundations of the earth, is found. Then each seal is opened leading to successive judgments on the earth. When the seventh seal is opened, it leads to seven trumpets with are further judgments and then finally seven bowls of wrath, which are the final judgments of the tribulation period (cf. Rev 8, 16). These are detailed between Revelation 6-16.
The specifics of the seals, trumpets, and bowl judgments in Revelation are shared below, as noted by John MacArthur:
The six seals include (1) the arrival of Antichrist, (2) war, (3) famine, (4) death, (5) martyrdom, and (6) earthquake (Rev. 6:2–12). These correspond closely with the conditions of “birth pains” found in Matthew 24:4–7. At the time of the sixth seal (earthquake), the people on earth realize they are facing the great wrath of God and the Lamb (Rev. 6:16–17) … Next, the seventh seal brings the second wave of judgments—the seven trumpets:
1. First trumpet: One-third of the earth, trees, and grass are burned up (Rev. 8:7).
2. Second trumpet: One-third of the sea creatures die, and the ships are destroyed (8:8–9).
3. Third trumpet: One-third of the waters are polluted, and many die (8:10–11).
4. Fourth trumpet: One-third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened (8:12).
5. Fifth trumpet: Locusts/demons are released to torment people (9:1–11).
6. Sixth trumpet: Four bound demons are released to kill one-third of humanity (9:13–19).
7. Seventh trumpet: Christ’s kingdom reign is proclaimed (11:15–18).
The final cluster of judgments are the bowl judgments. These come later in the tribulation period in rapid succession and are extremely severe:
1. First bowl: Painful sores come on people (Rev. 16:2).
2. Second bowl: The sea becomes like blood, and everything in the sea dies (16:3).
3. Third bowl: The rivers and springs of water are turned to blood (16:4–7).
4. Fourth bowl: The sun scorches people with fire and heat (16:8–9).
5. Fifth bowl: Darkness and intense pain afflict humanity (16:10–11).
6. Sixth bowl: The Euphrates River is dried up to prepare the way for kings from the East (16:12–16).
7. Seventh bowl: Severe earthquakes split the great city into three parts, cities fall, and severe hail drops from heaven (16:17–21).[v]
Nature of the Tribulation
What are some of the characteristics of the tribulation period?
1. The tribulation will be a time of false religion and apostasy.
In Matthew 24:4-5, Christ said, “Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many.” Because of all the false prophets and false messiahs, many of those who profess Christ will fall away. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul said: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” The Life Application Commentary said this about the “rebellion”:
This “rebellion” will be a massive revolt against God. It may begin among those who believe in God and spread to all people who refuse to accept Christ. Thus, it will include Jews who abandon God and some members of the church whose faith is nominal. While rebellion against God seems widespread even today, as the coming of Christ nears, this apostasy and active opposition against God will intensify.[vi]
2. The tribulation will be a time of wars and rumors of wars.
In Matthew 24:6-7, Christ said,
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
3. The tribulation will be a time of disturbances in nature and the heavens.
In Matthew 24:7, Christ said this, “… And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” Also, in verse 29, he said, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.” Likewise, Revelation 8:12 says,
Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. And there was no light for a third of the day and for a third of the night likewise.
4. The tribulation will be a time of world-wide plagues and diseases.
Revelation 6:8 says,
So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.
When it describes a significant portion of the population dying by disease and wild animals, wild animals might be the cause of some of the diseases. This is what happened during the bubonic plague as fleas and rats carried the disease.
5. The tribulation will be a time of persecution for those who worship God.
This persecution will be especially focused on Jews and Christians. In Matthew 24:9, Christ said this to his disciples, “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.” Also, Revelation 12:13 and 17 said this,
Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child … So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.
As mentioned, the woman who gave birth to the male child is Israel. When the dragon, representing Satan, makes war with “the rest of her children,” this probably refers to Christians, including believing Jews.
Major Characters in the Tribulation
Who are the major characters in the tribulation period?
1. Satan is a major character in the tribulation period.
In Revelation 12, he is the dragon who persecutes the Jews. In Revelation 13, the dragon gives his power to the antichrist to rule the earth. Revelation 13:2 says, “The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority to rule.” In Revelation 20, at the end of the tribulation when Christ returns, Satan is temporarily bound in the abyss so he can no longer tempt the nations. Revelation 20:1-2 says, “Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan—and tied him up for a thousand years.”
2. The antichrist is a major character in the tribulation period.
In Revelation 13:1, he is symbolized as a beast with ten horns, seven heads, and ten crowns. It says, “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name.” The antichrist will be given power by Satan to rule the earth during the tribulation period. At one point, he will experience a wound that he apparently dies from and is raised from the dead, which will cause the world to stand in awe of him, worship him, and Satan. Revelation 13:3-4 says,
One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?”
Then, the antichrist will exalt himself over God and everything called god (cf. 2 Thess 2:4). Revelation 13:6 says, “So the beast opened his mouth to blaspheme against God—to blaspheme both his name and his dwelling place, that is, those who dwell in heaven.” All his worshipers will accept his mark, which will allow them to buy and sell. Those who reject the mark will be put to death. Revelation 13:16-17 says,
He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number.
John MacArthur gives further insight on the antichrist:
The prefix anti- can mean “against” or “instead of.” So is the coming Antichrist openly “against” Jesus, or is he a counterfeit pretending to be a messiah figure? Both concepts could be true. He is a counterfeit to the Messiah in that he will make a deceptive treaty with the people of Israel (Dan. 9:27) and pretend to be their savior. Yet he is against Jesus by opposing Jesus and his saints. He also will persecute Israel at the midpoint of Daniel’s seventieth week. In sum, he is both a counterfeit and one who opposes Christ…
Debate exists as to whether the Antichrist will be a Jew or a Gentile. Possible evidence for being a Jew is found in Daniel 11:37, which says that he will “pay no attention to the gods of his fathers.” Some translations such as the King James Version set “God” in the singular. If this is the case, then he is rejecting the God of the Jewish patriarchs. Most translations, however, render this as “gods,” making it likely that Gentile gods are in view. This latter view is the more probable case. So the Antichrist arises from European nations (Dan. 7:7–8, 23–25; cf. Rev. 13:1). Also, since he is the prince who comes from the people who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 (Dan. 9:26), he must come from the Roman Empire, for the Romans were the ones who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Also, Daniel’s prediction concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215–164 BC) in Daniel 8:9–14, 23–25 supports the view that the Antichrist will be a Gentile. Antiochus was a Syrian who desecrated the Jewish temple around 167 BC by instituting Zeus worship in Jerusalem and having a pig slaughtered in the temple. This desolating act seems to prefigure what the Antichrist of Daniel 9:27 will do. Since Antiochus was a Gentile, the Antichrist will probably be a Gentile as well.
While a frightening and powerful figure, the Antichrist has a brief career and is destroyed. Paul says that Jesus “will kill [the man of lawlessness] with the breath of his mouth and bring [him] to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). Daniel says that a “decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Dan. 9:27) and that “he shall come to his end, with none to help him” (Dan. 11:45). This “beast” is thrown into the lake of fire at Jesus’s return, where his fate is sealed forever (Rev. 19:20).[vii]
3. The false prophet is a major character in the tribulation period.
In Revelation, the false prophet is pictured as a beast with two horns who exercises authority on behalf of the antichrist and does miracles to make the world worship the antichrist (Rev 13:11-12, 16:13). He will force people to accept the antichrist’s mark and punish those who will not (Rev 13:16). Revelation 13:11-17 says this about the false prophet:
Then I saw another beast coming up from the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but was speaking like a dragon. He exercised all the ruling authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and those who inhabit it worship the first beast, the one whose lethal wound had been healed. He performed momentous signs, even making fire come down from heaven in front of people and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number.
4. Two prophets of God are major characters in the tribulation period.
In Revelation 11, two prophets from God will prophesy from Jerusalem for three and half years—the last half of the tribulation period (v. 1-2). If anyone tries to harm them, fire will come from their mouths to consume the people. They will have power to stop the heavens from giving rain and also to call down fire from heaven. Revelation 11:3-6 says:
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. (These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.) If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way. These two have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have power to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want.
Many people believe these prophets are Elijah and Moses. Elijah and Moses met with Christ on the mountain during his transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8). During their earthly ministries, they were known for stopping the rain and bringing fire from heaven. Also, in Malachi 4:5, Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come before the messiah came to judge the earth. It says, “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” At Christ’s first coming, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah (Lk 1:17), but before the second coming, Elijah will come.
These two prophets will eventually be killed by the antichrist, and God will resurrect them from the dead and take them to heaven (Rev 11:7-12).
5. The 144,000 Jewish witnesses are major characters in the tribulation period.
Revelation 7:1-8 describes how God will seal 144,000 Jews—12,000 from each tribe. They are sealed so they can be protected from God’s wrath during the tribulation period. Revelation 14:4-5 says they were male virgins who were blameless in their conduct.
These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb, and no lie was found on their lips; they are blameless.
Many believe these will be Jewish preachers who God uses to spread the gospel during the tribulation period. In part, this is believed because after they are presented in Revelation 7:1-8, a large multitude of believers who came out of the tribulation from every nation, tribe, and tongue is shown in heaven worshiping God for his salvation (Rev 7:9-17).
6. Israel is a major character in the tribulation period.
As mentioned, Israel will be disciplined by God during the tribulation period, purified, and prepared to receive her messiah (Zech 13:8-9, 12:10, Rom 11:26-27). God will use Satan and the antichrist to discipline her. The antichrist will gather the nations to surround Jerusalem and destroy her (Zech 13-14, Rev 12). In the midst of this peril, Christ will return to Jerusalem to save them, and Israel will repent for rejecting him. Zechariah 14:2-4 says,
For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war; the city will be taken, its houses plundered, and the women raped. Then half of the city will go into exile, but the remainder of the people will not be taken away. Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward
And Zechariah 12:10 says,
I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn.
Likewise, Romans 11:26-27 says, “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’”
7. A worldwide ecumenical church is a major character in the tribulation period.
Revelation 17:3-6 describes this church:
So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality. On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.” I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus. I was greatly astounded when I saw her.
A prostitute is shown riding on a scarlet beast. The scarlet beast is the antichrist, and the prostitute seems to represent a false church. In the Old Testament, Israel is commonly called a prostitute for worshiping other gods (cf. Hosea 1:3, 2:2). The fact that the prostitute is riding the antichrist probably demonstrates that in some way he will use her to rise to power. Commonly in national elections, the religious vote is very powerful; therefore, candidates often appeal to various religious groups to get power. Maybe, the antichrist will do the same. However, Revelation 17:16 says, “The ten horns that you saw, and the beast—these will hate the prostitute and make her desolate and naked. They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire.” At some point, the antichrist will destroy the prostitute. This will probably happen at the midway portion of the tribulation when he breaks his peace treaty with Israel, places himself in their temple, and claims to be God (Dan 9:27, 2 Thess 2:4). After that, he will persecute all who will not worship him. Revelation 13:14-16 says this about the false prophet and how he causes all to worship the antichrist or be killed:
and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
For a season, Satan is content to be worshiped indirectly through false religions, as long as people do not worship the true God. However, at the midway point of the tribulation period, he will call all to worship him directly, and those who will not, will be destroyed, including those who worship him through his world-wide ecumenical church—the prostitute.
8. A revived Roman empire consisting of the European nations is a major character in the tribulation period.
Daniel 9:26-27 (NIV) predicts the nation the antichrist will come from. It says:
After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
In describing the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, it says the “people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” Who were the people that destroyed the temple? The Romans. What ruler is the passage talking about? Again, it is describing the antichrist who will make a peace covenant with Israel, as Daniel 9:27 predicts. But how is it possible that this future world ruler will come from the Roman Empire which no longer exists? For this to happen, there must be a revival of Rome as a world power.
What is Rome’s history? After Greece conquered the world, Rome conquered Greece and became the dominant world power for many centuries. However, in the Middle Ages, Rome disintegrated. The Roman Empire, though centralized in Italy, primarily consisted of all the European nations. It is speculated that a similar coalition will arise when it is revived. It will include some type of partnership between European nations.
In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of five kingdoms that would rule the earth, concluding with an everlasting kingdom that would never be destroyed. Those kingdoms were Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The fourth kingdom, Rome, is pictured in Daniel 2:40-43. It says,
Then there will be a fourth kingdom, one strong like iron. Just like iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything, and as iron breaks in pieces all of these metals, so it will break in pieces and crush the others. In that you were seeing feet and toes partly of wet clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom. Some of the strength of iron will be in it, for you saw iron mixed with wet clay. In that the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, the latter stages of this kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile. And in that you saw iron mixed with wet clay, so people will be mixed with one another without adhering to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
Rome is pictured as iron legs and feet mixed with clay and iron. This appears to refer to different stages of the Roman kingdom. Daniel 2:42 says, “In that the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, the latter stages of this kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile.” In the beginning, when Rome was united, it was strong and smashed everyone into pieces. However, later it began to divide and become weaker—only retaining some of the strength of the iron. When Rome, conquered Greece and the rest of the world, it was strong like iron. However, eventually, in the Middle Ages, it disintegrated into separate countries throughout Europe. Many believe the second stage of the Roman empire has begun in the forming together of the European nations in the European Union (EU). With that said, the EU does not seem to be the final form of the Roman Empire. Daniel 7:23-27 gives more details:
This is what he told me: ‘The fourth beast means that there will be a fourth kingdom on earth that will differ from all the other kingdoms. It will devour all the earth and will trample and crush it. The ten horns mean that ten kings will arise from that kingdom. Another king will arise after them, but he will be different from the earlier ones. He will humiliate three kings. He will speak words against the Most High. He will harass the holy ones of the Most High continually. His intention will be to change times established by law. They will be delivered into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court will convene, and his ruling authority will be removed—destroyed and abolished forever! Then the kingdom, authority, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be delivered to the people of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; all authorities will serve him and obey him.’
In Daniel 7, an angel gave Daniel further clarification about the last kingdom: it will have ten kings who form a federation together (cf. Rev 13:1). After them, another king will rise up, whom we know as the Antichrist. He will subdue three of the kings, leaving only seven in the federation (cf. Rev 17:3). It then describes some of the exploits of the Antichrist. He will persecute the saints, probably in the context referring to Jews (but certainly including Christians, cf. Rev 12-13). Then his power will be taken away and destroyed forever, as the final kingdom will begin to rule on the earth when Christ returns. It will be an everlasting kingdom which Christ and his saints—the people of God—will rule over. One of the reasons the revived Roman Empire is so significant is because its formation tells us that Christ’s coming and eternal kingdom is near. It seems that the EU may in some form be embryonic of the final ten-king federation, which eventually becomes a seven-king federation. Revelation 17:3 probably pictures this when it refers to a scarlet beast (the antichrist) who has “seven heads and ten horns.” The seven heads probably represent the seven kings and the horns represent the 10 kingdoms, which the antichrist will oversee.
9. A world capital called Babylon is a major character in the tribulation period.
In Revelation 18:2-3, an angel shouts:
Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a lair for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detested beast. For all the nations have fallen from the wine of her immoral passion, and the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have gotten rich from the power of her sensual behavior.
This city will be famous. From it, Satan will influence the nations. It will be a city full of demons, sexual immorality, witchcraft, wealth, commerce, and even human trafficking (Rev 18:9, 11-13, 23). It will be used to persecute believers. Revelation 18:24 says, “The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed on the earth.” Eventually, it will be destroyed by God. Revelation 18:8 says, “For this reason, she will experience her plagues in a single day: disease, mourning, and famine, and she will be burned down with fire, because the Lord God who judges her is powerful!”
The city will be the capital of Satan’s empire during the tribulation. Though some believe that the name “Babylon” is symbolic of whatever evil city Satan will use during the tribulation period, some believe it will be literal Babylon. This is because there are a few Old Testament prophecies which declare that God will destroy ancient Babylon in such a way that it will never be inhabited again (cf. Isaiah 13:17-22, Jer 50:39-40), which has never been fulfilled. For example, Isaiah 13:17-22 says this about Babylon:
Look, I am stirring up the Medes to attack them; they are not concerned about silver, nor are they interested in gold. Their arrows will cut young men to ribbons; they have no compassion on a person’s offspring, they will not look with pity on children. Babylon, the most admired of kingdoms, the Chaldeans’ source of honor and pride, will be destroyed by God just as Sodom and Gomorrah were. No one will live there again; no one will ever reside there again. No bedouin will camp there, no shepherds will rest their flocks there. Wild animals will rest there, the ruined houses will be full of hyenas. Ostriches will live there, wild goats will skip among the ruins. Wild dogs will yip in her ruined fortresses, jackals will yelp in the once-splendid palaces. Her time is almost up, her days will not be prolonged.
Certainly, the Medes and Persians defeated Babylon during the time of Daniel, but Babylon continued to be inhabited after, and it is still inhabited today. Therefore, many see that prophecy as having a near and far fulfillment. Satan’s capital city of Babylon in the last days will fulfill that prophecy. Revelation 18:21-23 says,
… “With this kind of sudden violent force Babylon the great city will be thrown down and it will never be found again! And the sound of the harpists, musicians, flute players, and trumpeters will never be heard in you again. No craftsman who practices any trade will ever be found in you again; the noise of a mill will never be heard in you again. Even the light from a lamp will never shine in you again! The voices of the bridegroom and his bride will never be heard in you again…
10. Christ is a major character in the tribulation period.
The entire tribulation period is considered part of the Lamb’s wrath, as he is the one who opens each seal in the seven-sealed book (Rev 6). Revelation 6:16-17 says,
They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”
At the end of the tribulation in Revelation 19:6-8, Christ is married to his bride in heaven, who represents the church (cf. Eph 5:22-33). Then, he returns to the earth with his army (of angels and saints) to judge Satan, the antichrist, the false prophet, and the unbelieving world and to establish his millennial kingdom. Revelation 19:11-16 says.
Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Chronology of the Tribulation
What are some of the major chronological events in the tribulation?
1. At the beginning of the tribulation period, the antichrist will bring a period of false peace.
With the opening of the first seal of the seven-sealed book, the antichrist is revealed. Revelation 6:1-2 says:
I looked on when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a thunderous voice, “Come!” So I looked, and here came a white horse! The one who rode it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and as a conqueror he rode out to conquer.
Most believe this person is the antichrist. The fact that he is on a white horse with a crown seems to represent his political leadership. The fact that he has a bow, with no arrows, seems to represent that he will initially conquer but without war. He will be a political genius who will initially win the hearts of people by his words and by bringing a false peace. Daniel 9:27 affirms this by the fact that he will create a seven-year peace treaty with Israel. It says, “He will confirm a covenant with many for one week…”
2. The antichrist will have a false resurrection which helps deceive the world into following him.
Revelation 13:3-4 says,
One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?”
Since Satan is an imitator, he imitates God through his unholy trinity—himself representing God, the antichrist representing Christ, and the false prophet representing the Holy Spirit. The antichrist will imitate Christ by having a false resurrection (cf. Rev 13:14), which will be used to deceive the world into following him and worshiping Satan.
3. At the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation period, the antichrist will break his covenant with Israel, place an idol of himself in the Jewish temple, and command all to worship him or suffer death.
Several verses speak of this prideful act of rebellion against God. Daniel 9:27 says,
He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt. On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.”
Likewise, Daniel 11:36 says,
Then the king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every deity and he will utter presumptuous things against the God of gods. He will succeed until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been decreed must occur.
In Matthew 24, Jesus described this as a pivotal event during the tribulation, and that when the Jews saw this, they should flee Jerusalem since it would mark the beginning of the severest suffering that will ever happen in the world and specifically a devastating persecution of the Jews. He described this part of the tribulation as having “great suffering” (v. 21). In Matthew 24:15-21, he said:
So when you see the abomination of desolation—spoken about by Daniel the prophet—standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house, and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, Paul also warned of this, saying:
Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God.
Also, John spoke of this treacherous act in Revelation 13:14-17 and how it would lead to the murder of those who would not worship the antichrist and accept his mark.
and, by the signs he [the false prophet] was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number.
This will apparently be when the antichrist destroys the ecumenical church, he once partnered with to gain power (Rev 17:3). Only worshiping him directly will suffice. Revelation 17:16 says, “The ten horns that you saw, and the beast—these will hate the prostitute and make her desolate and naked. They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire.”
4. After breaking his covenant with Israel and commanding all to worship him, the antichrist will aim to conquer the world by war instead of intrigue and promises of peace.
Daniel 11:37-45 says,
He will not respect the gods of his fathers—not even the god loved by women. He will not respect any god; he will elevate himself above them all. What he will honor is a god of fortresses—a god his fathers did not acknowledge he will honor with gold, silver, valuable stones, and treasured commodities. He will attack mighty fortresses, aided by a foreign deity. To those who recognize him he will grant considerable honor. He will place them in authority over many people, and he will parcel out land for a price. “At the time of the end the king of the south will attack him. Then the king of the north will storm against him with chariots, horsemen, and a large armada of ships. He will invade lands, passing through them like an overflowing river. Then he will enter the beautiful land. Many will fall, but these will escape: Edom, Moab, and the Ammonite leadership. He will extend his power against other lands; the land of Egypt will not escape. He will have control over the hidden stores of gold and silver, as well as all the treasures of Egypt. Libyans and Ethiopians will submit to him. But reports will trouble him from the east and north, and he will set out in a tremendous rage to destroy and wipe out many. He will pitch his royal tents between the seas toward the beautiful holy mountain. But he will come to his end, with no one to help him.
5. To conclude his conquest, the antichrist will call the nations of the earth to a place called Armageddon (in northern Israel) to fight against God and Israel.
Revelation 16:13-14 and verse 16 says,
Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful… Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.
Likewise, Zechariah prophesied about this; however, he said God gathered the nations of the earth to fight against Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:2-3 and 14:1-2 says,
I am about to make Jerusalem a cup that brings dizziness to all the surrounding nations; indeed, Judah will also be included when Jerusalem is besieged. Moreover, on that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy burden for all the nations, and all who try to carry it will be seriously injured; yet all the peoples of the earth will be assembled against it.
A day of the Lord is about to come when your possessions will be divided as plunder in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war; the city will be taken, its houses plundered, and the women raped. Then half of the city will go into exile, but the remainder of the people will not be taken away.
6. Christ will return with his saints to defeat the antichrist, judge the unbelieving, save the nation of Israel, bind Satan, and begin his millennial reign on the earth.
Revelation 19:19-20:2 says,
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh. Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan—and tied him up for a thousand years.
Zechariah 12:3-4 and 8-10 says
Moreover, on that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy burden for all the nations, and all who try to carry it will be seriously injured; yet all the peoples of the earth will be assembled against it. In that day,” says the Lord, “I will strike every horse with confusion and its rider with madness. I will pay close attention to the house of Judah, but will strike all the horses of the nations with blindness … On that day the Lord himself will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like mighty David, and the dynasty of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. So on that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” “I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn.
Zechariah 14:3-4 and 12-16 says,
Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward… But this will be the nature of the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that have fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will decay while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot away in their sockets, and their tongues will dissolve in their mouths. On that day there will be great confusion from the Lord among them; they will seize each other and attack one another violently. Moreover, Judah will fight at Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be gathered up—gold, silver, and clothing in great abundance. This is the kind of plague that will devastate horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in those camps. Then all who survive from all the nations that came to attack Jerusalem will go up annually to worship the King, the Lord who rules over all, and to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. But if any of the nations anywhere on earth refuse to go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord who rules over all, they will get no rain.
Christ prophesied that the tribulation would happen right before he returns (Matt 24:29-30). It will last seven years. It will be a time where God judges the unbelieving world (2 Thess 2:11-12, Rev 3:10) and saves a people who will worship him during Christ’s millennial kingdom (Zech 14:16, Matt 25:34), including the nation of Israel (cf. Zech 13:8-9, 12:10, Jer 30:7, Rom 11:26-27).
1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
2. What is the purpose of the tribulation period?
3. What are some names of the tribulation period?
4. What is the nature of the tribulation period—its characteristics?
5. What are some major characters of the tribulation period?
6. What is the chronology of the tribulation period?
7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
[i] Hitchcock, Mark. The Amazing Claims of Bible Prophecy, (p. 43). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition. [ii] Rydelnik, M. A. (2014). Daniel. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1305). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. [iii] Hitchcock, Mark. The Amazing Claims of Bible Prophecy, (p. 46). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition. [iv] Rydelnik, M. A. (2014). Daniel. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1306). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. [v] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 902–904). Wheaton, IL: Crossway. [vi] Barton, B., Comfort, P., Osborne, G., Taylor, L. K., & Veerman, D. (2001). Life Application New Testament Commentary (p. 919). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale. [vii] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 904–906). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.