THE GREAT TRIBULATION
"For then there will be great tribulation,
such as has not been
since the beginning of the world until this time,
no, nor ever shall be."
From the Main Message of
Bread Upon The Waters Ministry;
Part I: Introduction:
In discussing what will really happen during the Great Tribulation, this ministry takes the view that our thinking about this must be based primarily on the Book of Revelation. As will be shown, doing so leads to conclusions that are significantly different from what has been generally taught.
It is the view of this ministry that the Book of Revelation has preeminent authority over all the other Books of the Bible where Second Coming Prophecy is concerned. This idea is derived mainly from the fact that it is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in His glorified, post-Ascension state, who appears at the beginning as the Giver of the Book. It is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ", as the book itself says, not "The Revelation of St. John the Divine", as it is often called.
From what John says in the first verse, we conclude that this Book contains prophetic information that Jesus Himself did not know in His earthly, pre-Ascension state. If He had known, the information would be in the Gospels. What we find in the Gospels is just a number of generalities. In the famous prophetic discourses of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, these generalities are mixed with prophecies that clearly refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, rather than the Second Coming. Therefore, if you base your thinking about what will happen on these chapters, you are guaranteed to be wrong. Only the Book of Revelation gives a complete scenario of the events connected with the Second Coming. And even this could not be understood until recently.
Passages related to the Second Coming in other Books of the Bible are in bits and pieces. Trying to put then together into a prophetic scenario is like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with a lot of pieces missing, plus pieces present that don't belong. The probability of coming up with the complete, correct picture in such a case is best expressed as zero. We only find all the pieces, with none that don't belong, in the Book of Revelation.
There is a Biblical principle that only recently has been noticed by students of prophecy. It is founded on Daniel 12, verses 4 and 8-10. This principle says, in essence, that the Prophecies of the Second Coming will not be able to be understood until they are about to be fulfilled. In Daniel 12:4, Daniel was told to "...shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end...". This idea is reinforced in verses 8-10. Herein is an important thing to remember: When the Prophets wrote down what they were told, and saw in visions, they themselves frequently did not understand what they were writing. It is only when the Prophecies are fulfilled, or about to be fulfilled, that they can be understood. What the angel said to Daniel in verse 9 & 10 was actually a mild rebuke; "Go your way, Daniel (He might as well have said "Mind your own business, Daniel".) for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end...none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand". Understand what? The Prophecies! When the time comes for them to be fulfilled.
The idea that the Prophecies will be understood when they are about to be fulfilled is consistent with Amos 3:7, which says, "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the Prophets".
Some of the conclusions presented in this page are based on scientific discoveries made within the past 20 years. Most of this knowledge was known only as theory to a few scientists before, but it has now not only become recognized as fact, but has become well known to the general public. Some still is not well known to the public.
This brings up a serious question: Is it Biblically right and acceptable to use knowledge from sources outside the Bible, especially from science, to interpret Prophecy? There is no direct answer to this in the Bible, but there are two passages that show that this is in fact acceptable. One is in Acts 17: 27 & 28, were Paul appeals to pagan Greek poets (i.e. philosophers) to support his theological points of the Fatherhood and omnipresence of God. As others have said, truth is truth, no matter where it comes from. The second example, and the stronger of the two, is the story of the Wise Men in Matthew 2:1-12. They were astrologers, We know this from the Greek word translated "Wise Men". Elsewhere in the New Testament, in the singular, it is translated "sorcerer". As astrologers of that time, they were also primitive astronomers, the scientists of their day. They had real, if limited, knowledge of the sky. And they were the only people in the New Testament to know by their own knowledge and reasoning that the Messiah had come! Modern science is far more likely to give us real, factual truth than either ancient astrologers or pagan Greek poets. So if they were able to come up with truth worthy of inclusion of the Bible, including accurate interpretation of prophecy, then it logically follows that modern science might well tell us something about the events connected with the Second Coming of Christ.
Part II: What Happens to Christians
As stated in the "Jesus REALLY is coming soon" page, most Christians today expect to be taken up in the Rapture before the Tribulation begins. However, there is Biblical evidence from both Prophecy and doctrine that says that when the Tribulation begins, most Christians will not be ready.
The Prophetic reason for believing that most Christians won't be ready, again, derives from the idea that we are living in the historical Church Age of Laodicea. Although not all Christians believe this, there is a widely held view that the Seven Churches of Revelation 2 and 3 are seven ages in the history of the Church. In fact, it can be discerned from history when each age began and ended. It is widely accepted that if this is so, and the Second Coming is near, then we have to be living in the Age of Laodicea.
In looking at the Churches, we find that everything Jesus said about each Church means something relevant to its spiritual condition and/or its role (or fate) in history. Even the name. The word "Laodicea" comes from two Greek words, "laos", meaning people, and "dikazo", meaning either "an opinion" or "a sentence given by a judge". Applying the first meaning to the Church today, we find that this is a prophecy fulfilled in the wide range of difference of doctrinal opinions that characterizes the Christian world. Relating the second meaning to Revelation 3:16, we see that it prophesies the Church being rejected by Christ at the beginning of the Tribulation.
There is a simple but serious argument against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine that is derived from relating the two famous "Rapture" passages, I Corinthians 15:51-54 and I Thessalonians 4:13-18, to Revelations 20:4-6. The two "Rapture" passages both make the point that the Resurrection of the Saints happens immediately before the Rapture. Revelation 20:4-6 describes a Resurrection of the Saints that by the context clearly happens at the end of the Tribulation. Verse 5 makes a point of saying that this is the First Resurrection. If this is the First Resurrection, then there is no resurrection before it. If there is no resurrection before it, there is no Rapture before it. If it happens at the end of the Tribulation, then the Rapture happens at the end of the Tribulation. It's that simple.
But again, the question will be academic for the majority of Christians, because they won't be ready.
The Seal of the Living God
The key to understanding what happens to Christians is Revelation chapter 7. In the first few verses of that chapter, a limited number of people, 144,000, out of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, are shown to be given something called "the seal of the living God". From versed 2 & 3 we know that this happens just before the Tribulation begins. Contrary to what has been commonly thought, there is solid Scriptural reason to believe that those who will receive the seal are not necessarily Jews, but Christians, the Christians who are really ready. The key phrase in the passage is "the servants of our God" in verse 3. A servant of God in this age is a Christian. See Isaiah 65:15.
Although the majority of Christians will not be ready, and hence the rejection, a relatively few will be. These are the people to whom Jesus refers with the words, "To him who overcomes". They will not deserve to suffer during the Tribulation. The "seal of the living God" will protect them from God's wrath. See Revelation 9:4, and compare Ezekiel 9 (it's a short chapter).
The Rest of the Christians
For the rest of the Christians, the Tribulation will be as much a great chastisement as it will be a great judgment on the unsaved world. We find the key to this in Revelation 7:9 and 13 & 14. In verse 7, we find the "great multitude which no one could number". In verse 13, the elder asks John who these people are. John doesn't know, and politely throws the question back to the elder. His reply is, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb".
In understanding this, we must remember that the term "great tribulation" occurs only in two other places in the Bible, Mathew 24:21 and Daniel 12:1 (Note: readings in Daniel vary from translation to translation). In both cases, it refers to something that happens in connection with the Second Coming of Christ. There is no real Scriptural basis for calling the entire Church Age "The Great Tribulation", as some do.
Given that, understand this: No one comes out of something he was never in. To "come out of the great tribulation", the Christians first of all have to be in it. They will be in it because they weren't ready. During the Tribulation, they will wake up to their failure and repent. Hence they "washed their robes and made them white". See Daniel 11:35 & Zechariah 13:9.
Understand this, if the Tribulation begins and you are not ready, you will be in big trouble, and most Christians will not be ready. Never assume that you are ready!
Part III: The Three Great Woes;
What happens to the world as a whole?
When most Christians think of the length of the Tribulation, they think of it as consisting of two 3 1/2 year periods, based on the idea that the Tribulation is the 70thWeek of Daniel 9: 24-27. This ministry does not argue this point pro or con. The 70th Week could run concurrently with what the Book of Revelation shows. Or, as some have suggested, it could actually be something that happens just before the Tribulation. However, you should be aware that it has been well argued by some students of Prophecy that the 70th Week has already been fulfilled.
As stated in the Introduction, our thinking must be based on the Book of Revelation. Only the Book of Revelation gives a complete prophetic scenario of the events of the Great Tribulation. The Revelation does not make any mention of two 3 1/2 year periods. Rather, it shows the Tribulation consisting of three major outpourings of God's wrath that are called "woes". You can find these mentioned in Revelation 8:13, 9:12, and 11:14. These periods are each different from the other two in form, intensity and duration. The first woe appears to last about five months. The second has to be more than 3 1/2, but less than 6 years. For the third, no time range is given. The most probable overall duration of the Tribulation appears to be only about 5 1/2 years. But that will be bad enough. About 2/3 of the human race will be killed during the first year, including Christians who weren't ready. Many more will die before the Tribulation is over, and the only ones who won't suffer much will be the Christians who are ready but somehow avoid persecution and/or martyrdom, if there are any such. There may not be.
The First Woe: A Mountain Burning With Fire
The key to understanding the first woe is Revelation 8:8. John describes "something like a great mountain burning with fire" being "cast into the sea". One of the keys to understanding this passage is the Greek word translated "something like". It occurs several times in Revelation 8 and 9. This word has no complete English equivalent. A full translation of it would read, "similar to, but distinctly not...". In other words, John did not recognize what he saw, but compared it to the only thing he knew that it resembled. We do know, from modern science, what he saw, and it is terrifying: a comet or asteroid collision, the impact occurring in one of the oceans.
If the verses, Revelation 8:7 -9:2 are viewed as different aspects of the same event, they form a scientifically accurate and detailed description of what would happen if a small asteroid or comet nucleus collided with the earth, the impact, again, happening in one of the oceans. The repeated references to "one third" are a reference to the one third of the earth's surface nearest the point of impact that would be directly effected, an area with a radius of 4500 to 5000 miles around the point of impact. This area will be totally devastated.
The most probable point of impact is the mid Pacific Ocean, somewhere north of the equator. The reasons are as follows: The impact must destroy a third of the earth's surface, but leave Israel relatively unscathed. It must happen as far away from Israel as possible. That puts it in the Pacific. It must, however, not be exactly on the opposite side of the earth from the point of impact. The convergence of shock waves at the opposite point may cause a secondary disaster that would be locally almost as bad as the impact. Since Israel is north of the equator (about the latitude of the central Eastern states of the U.S.) the impact must occur north of the equator so the secondary disaster doesn't affect Israel. That puts it somewhere in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.
If the impact occurs there, it will destroy most of the nations on the Pacific Rim. This will include the destruction of most of the United States. Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Most of China, Mexico, Canada, and eastern Siberia will also be very hard hit. The land areas closest to the impact will be virtually obliterated. The casualty rate in those areas will be 100%.
Following the impact, the entire earth will be plunged into a state of semi-darkness by the clouds of water and impact debris that will spread out from the point of impact. This is all something that the mass media, at least in the U.S., has been conditioning people to expect. It will be regarded by most people as simply horrendous bad luck. But during the period of darkness, something else will happen that science does not predict. Mysterious creatures called "locusts" (again, probably a comparison of something unknown to something John recognized), probably of a demonic nature, will spread out from the point of impact and start stinging people in an extremely painful but non-fatal way. Their stings are compared to those of scorpions. A scorpion sting is one of the most painful injuries a human can receive and live to tell about it. The only people who won't get stung are those with the seal of the living God.
When the locusts disappear, the darkness will probably also end. This will be the end of the first woe. Again, the whole thing lasts five months. There may then be a brief period of respite. But not for long.
The Second Woe: The Two Witnesses Vs. The Two Beasts
Sometime shortly after the first woe ends, a new horror will break forth on the world. Somewhere in the vicinity of Baghdad - why there, we don't know - a mysterious, and apparently demonic army will appear. Two hundred million strong, they will spread out throughout the surviving world and randomly kill another third - that is, half the surviving - human race. (See Zechariah 13: 8.) How long this lasts is not stated, but it probably won't be long, at most a few months. When it is over, the surviving world will be in a state of chaos such has never been known in human history.
The Two Witnesses
Out of the chaos two strange men will arise. They will be Christians, but there have never been Christians like these. They will be the most superhumanly powerful Christians who have ever lived. More powerful, in a way, than Jesus was during His life on earth. Like Jesus, they will work miracles. But these will not be benevolent miracles of healing and deliverance. These will be miracles of wrath. They may bring down a drought on earth that lasts the entire duration of their ministry. They may also strike the earth, where ever and whenever they wish with plagues like those of Egypt. And if anyone tries to harm them - and some people will - they will breath fire like dragons and kill them.
And they preach a message. It will be a final, stern call to repentance. They will principally target the Christians who weren't ready and the unsaved Jews. For the human race, their ministry will be the last chance in this world for salvation and repentance. We know this from Revelation 10:7. The phrases "the mystery of God...as He declared it.." refer to salvation, not the end of the Tribulation. We know this from the Greek word translated "declared". It is "euaggelion". This happens to be the word from which we get our word "evangelism". The phrase would be more completely translated "declared it's good news". The passage says that the mystery would be "finished", i.e. completed, when the seventh trumpet sounds. The seventh trumpet will sound right after the deaths of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:15). When they are gone, all chance of salvation is over. After that, it will be nothing but wrath.
The Two Beasts
Some time after the Two Witnesses begin their ministry, two other strange men will rise to power somewhere in the world. These are the men that the Book of Revelation calls the Two Beasts, the King and the False Prophet. They cannot rise to power at the same time as the Witnesses, because both the Witnesses and the Beasts are active for 3 1/2 year periods. The two periods have to overlap, since the first Beast kills the Two Witnesses. By how much time the periods overlap, we do not know. It could be as little as a few months, or as much as 2 1/2-3 years.
The first Beast, again, is a king, though we might more likely describe him as a military dictator. His most distinguishing features are that he has a big mouth, making a lot of boasts exalting himself; he is invincible in war, and he will miraculously recover from a seemingly fatal head wound.
The second Beast is the false prophet. He can make fire come down from heaven. He creates the statue of the first Beast and brings it to life, and by the context, he, not the first Beast, makes people take the dreaded Mark of the Beast, 666.
The Two Beasts apparently rise to power with the support of something called "Mystery Babylon" or the "Great Harlot". Catholics have tended to identify this as communism. Protestants tend to identify it with Catholicism or the New Age Movement, or both. But looking at the question of the identity of Mystery Babylon from the standpoint of history and some little - known prophecies, another, much more likely suspect becomes visible: Islam!
In the Book of Zechariah, chapter 5, is a prophecy that may have a critical relationship to this issue. Zechariah is shown a woman in a large basket. The angel tells him, "This is wickedness". He pushes the woman down into the basket and puts a lead lid on it. This appears to mean that the woman represents some kind of serious evil that at the time was being forcefully contained. The basket is then taken to Shinar, where, Zechariah is told, a house will be built for it and it will be set on it's base.
Shinar is the land of Babylon. At the time that Zechariah had the vision, the Babylonian Empire had been conquered by the Persians and the city itself was in decline. Nothing has happened there since that might have any bearing on prophecy - until quite recently. Just within the past few decades, the land of Shinar, which includes most of Iraq and parts of Syria and Iran, has become the military and political base of fundamentalist Islam.
Protestants have tended to see Mystery Babylon as being a revived Roman Empire. But in Revelation 17:8, the angel speaks of a Beast that "was, and is not, yet is". At the time that the Book of Revelation was written, the Roman Empire was at its height. This could not refer to Rome. Then there is the fact that Mystery Babylon sits on seven hills (17:9). Again, this does sound like a reference to Rome. But the Greek word translated "on" can be just as legitimately translated "near". There is another city of significance that, although it doesn't sit on seven hills, is surrounded by seven hills. That city is Mecca, the spiritual headquarters of Islam. Mecca can be considered an anti-Jerusalem. The Great Mosque and the Kaaba are to Muslims what the Temple and the Holy of Holies were to the Israelites of the Old Testament. The famous Black Stone (probably a meteorite) in the Kaaba is to Muslims what the Ark of the Covenant was to the Israelites, a physical manifestation of the presence of God.
It is also possible that the "seven hills" are not meant literally at all. By Biblical symbolism, the "seven hills" could refer to a coalition of seven governments. This idea is supported by the statement in Revelation 13:1 that the First Beast has seven heads.
What we should look for is a revived Babylonian Empire, dominated by Islam. This will require and alliance of Syria, Iran and Iraq. This is beginning to happen now. If you want to know whether this scenario is true, watch these countries. Watch for one person to rule all three countries.
One important possibility, though, is that the Second Beast, the False Prophet, may be a Pope. This is suggested by the statements in Revelation 13:1 and 11 that show different sources for the Two Beasts. The False Prophet rises from "the land", which could be a reference to the Church or Israel or both.
The Third Woe: The Scorching Sun
After the first Beast kills the Two Witnesses, and they rise from the dead and ascend to Heaven, there will be a local earthquake in Jerusalem that kills 7000 people. This will probably be immediate vengeance for what they did to the Two Witnesses. After that, there may be another brief period of respite.
Then one day people will notice that the sun seems to be getting brighter and hotter than usual. They may tell themselves at first that they are imagining it. But they won't be able to keep that up for long. The sun will increase its output of energy by seven times. (See Isaiah 30:26.) It will be so bright that the light reflected from the moon will be as bright as normal sunlight. What will have happened is what scientists call a "helium flash" in the sun. The sun, as you probably know, gets its energy from a hydrogen fusion reaction that is constantly going on deep within it.. That fusion creates a lot of helium. After a period of time, the helium concentration builds up to the point that a helium fusion reaction spontaneously ignites in the sun. This, of course, results in a big increase in the sun's output of energy. But it isn't long until the helium is used up, and the reaction burns itself out. Then the sun goes back to something close to what is was before. But while it's happening, it will be literal hell on earth.
For the people who go through it, this will be the worst part of the Tribulation, physically. But it is likely that all Christians and anyone else who hasn't taken the Mark of the Beast, especially children, will be supernaturally protected. This is the part of the Tribulation that will most directly and seriously threaten the extinction of the human race, and all other life on earth.
People will survive because of all the water that will evaporate from the earth's surface. All the icecaps and glaciers will melt and the oceans may literally boil. The evaporated water will form a blanket of water vapor around the earth that will absorb or reflect much of the heat, and the melting and the evaporation itself will absorb a lot of the energy.
When the "helium flash" ends, the cloud blanket will mostly collapse, in the greatest thunderstorm of all time. This will also trigger a global earthquake, brought on by the tectonic stresses on the earth's crust produced by all the melting of ice and the evaporation of water. But when it's over, for most of the world, the worst of the Tribulation will be over.
After the "helium flash", there will be another phase of the Tribulation. But this time, it will be followers of traditional Islam who will do the most suffering. Because of their inability to do anything about the "helium flash", there will be a falling out between the Beasts and their followers and the followers of tradition Islam. The Beasts will react by arresting, imprisoning, and killing tradition Muslims everywhere. This will be the fulfillment of the promise of Revelation 13:10. Muslims who have persecuted and killed Christians will find themselves being persecuted and killed by the very Beasts they had been serving.
The climactic event of this will be that the Beast will destroy Mecca. Although there will not be a nuclear holocaust in connection with the Tribulation, there will be at least one nuke used. The Beast will use it to destroy Mecca. Alas Babylon! Or, "good riddance to bad rubbish".
The Second Coming of Christ
After the destruction of Mecca, it will look like the Beast has finally won. The surviving world will be following a new form of Islam that worships the Beast as at least the Muslim messiah, or "Imam Mahdi". Christianity will have effectively disappeared (See Daniel 12:7). The relatively few Christians who are left will be in hiding. In fact, they may be starving to death. But they will be able to do one thing: Pray! They will be praying, and with unity and fervor with which Christians have not prayed since the day of Pentecost, and they will have but one prayer request:
"Come, Lord Jesus! Come Quickly!"
Their prayers will be answered. Quickly!
One morning, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after Mecca is destroyed, just as the sun is rising over Jerusalem, the sky will suddenly go black. Then a sound will be heard throughout the world such as has never been heard in the history of the world. It will sound like a shofar, an Israeli ram's horn trumpet. But this is a sound that is heard everywhere. It shakes the earth and sky. It sends the Beasts and their followers to their knees in terror. It brings the saints to their feet in joy. The sound of the trumpet is quickly followed by another, equally unique sound. This is recognizably a shout, the voice of the archangel. It is a command. A command that cannot be disobeyed. In the twinkling of an eye, the dead in Christ are raised. The surviving saints light up like the sun.
As the trumpet sounds, a great sign appears in Heaven. Probably, a gigantic glowing cross. It will be larger than the earth. No matter where you are, you see it. It is brighter than the sun, but you can't look away from it. Out of the cross comes something else. At first it just looks like a bunch of shining clouds. But as it gets closer, you can see that it is an army of angels, coming down through the sky toward Jerusalem, and at its head, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The resurrected and transformed saints rise up like eagles to meet Him in the air.
The sinful scream in terror. The saints shout for joy. Jesus has come.
For Christians, the Great Tribulation is over. But not for the Beasts and their followers. The third woe isn't over yet.
When Jesus returns, He will go to Jerusalem, where the blessed event called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will take place. It will probably last about two weeks. But outside of Jerusalem, all is not well. The two Beasts are still alive and well, and they still have control over their followers. They will try to do what Muslims have been trying to do since the seventh century; get rid of Christianity by military force.
During the "helium flash", the call will have gone out for all the armies of the kings loyal to the Beasts to gather for an attack on Israel, which will probably have all turned to Christianity by that time. The armies will gather at a place in Israel presently known as the Plain of Esdraelon. It is a broad, triangular valley between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea just south of the Sea of Galilee. On the west, there is a hill on which a huge fortress stood in ancient times. The name of the hill has carried over as another name for the valley, Har Meggido, or, as we say it in English, Armageddon!
They won't go there planning to fight there. It will be meant as an assembly point for the assault on Jerusalem. But most of them will never see Jerusalem. Just as they begin to launch their attack, Jesus, in Jerusalem, will briefly show His people that He is the God of the Old Testament as well as the New. He will literally roar. A roar that shakes earth and sky. A roar that is heard all the way to Armageddon. Panic will break out among the armies, and in their panic, they will start killing each other. Men will be going down like dominoes. But that won't be all. There will be one more astronomical catastrophe.
If left to themselves, there would be survivors, enough to cause trouble later. God will not let any of them get away. He has another surprise in store. This one will be a comet collision of a much different type than the one at the beginning of the Tribulation. This will be much smaller, and it will enter the earth's atmosphere at such an angle that it will explode in mid air, right over Armageddon, like the air-burst of a hydrogen bomb, but without the radioactivity. In the time it takes to clap your hands, the entire army of the Beasts will be dead.
But that won't be all. There are ten kings who support the Beasts. Their capitals and/or military bases will have to go. Other objects, probably pieces of the same comet, will hit them and wipe them out. The entire kingdom of the Beasts will cease to exist.
Finally, the Two Beasts will have what might be called a Rapture of their own, but it won't be one that they will like. Angels will grab them and throw them alive into the lake of fire. And there they will stay forever. Satan will also be captured, but it won't be his time for the lake of fire yet. He will be chained in the bottomless pit for a 1000 years. What this means, we don't really know, but one thing is sure. He won't be able to bother anybody for a looonnng time.
When the Tribulation is over, the Millennium begins. There is little that can be said about this with certainty from the Scriptures. But one thing is sure. The Christians who really lived for Jesus in this life, and all the Tribulation saints, will be reigning with Him in a world that will be at peace.
There is still trouble ahead, at the end of the Millennium, but that is a matter of little present concern to us. What is of concern to us is that Jesus is coming soon. And the Tribulation is going to be bad news for everybody. It is of critical importance to all Christians to be ready. For some advice on how to be ready, see the following page;
Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth
Contact Author, William D. Brehm