Is the current trauma that the world is experiencing evidence that the seven-year tribulation period prophesied in The Revelation and elsewhere has begun? Short answer: no. The church at Thessalonica had had similar fears that the trials they were enduring might indicate that the tribulation was upon them. But Paul assured them that they had been saved in order “to wait for His Son from heaven . . . that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (I Thess. 1:10). And John expresses the same truth to the church at Philadelphia; he quotes the risen Christ: “I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). The living church of Jesus Christ “will be caught up together with them [the bodies of the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). So, no. What we are experiencing is not even the beginning of that time of universal judgment. But for those who could not even begin to imagine how the world might be united under a one-world government, the picture is clearer. We can see pretty plainly how quickly a little fear will induce men to forfeit their freedom for the promise of security. Already, the vast majority of people around the world are looking to government for protection, for answers, for solutions. “This is not a time to read the Bible!” respond some public voices, indignant that the CEO of a successful company should be given time on the news to express such sentiments. And they will finally have their way. The beast will take power, dissent will be squelched, unimaginable oppression will prevail. “All these are [just] the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:8, KJV).
What will the tribulation look like? God spells it out in The Revelation, as John describes the wrath that God will visit on this world through a series of judgments described as seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. Even the abbreviated list below amply discloses the horrific destruction yet to come upon wicked, rebellious mankind.
Two of the seven seal judgments. Unparalleled world-wide strife will engulf the earth. The picture is that of universal warfare, suggesting not only battles between organized armies but virtually everyone armed and fighting one another in the streets (6:3, 4). One-quarter of those living will be killed “with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (6:8).
Four of the seven trumpet judgments. One-third of the earth will be set ablaze and burned up (8:7). In addition to the horror of that loss, think of the effects on the atmosphere. Breathing will become a challenge. One-third of the sea will be turned to blood, killing all the fish in those waters and destroying one-third of the ships (8:8). One-third of the world’s freshwater supply will become undrinkable, causing many to die from thirst or from illnesses resulting from drinking polluted water (8:10). The sun, moon, and stars will be struck so that they do not shine for one-third of the day and night (8:12). A plague of creatures from the pit, described as locusts with stings like scorpions, will harass men for five months to the extent that “men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them” (9:6). Then another one-third of mankind will succumb to the “fire,” “smoke,” and “brimstone” issuing from the weapons of an army 200 million strong (9:13-18).
Three of the seven bowl judgments. “Loathsome and malignant sore[s]” will beset much of the remaining populace who worshiped the beast (16:2). Every remaining living thing in the seas dies (16:3). And men will be “scorched with fierce heat” from the sun (16:9).
And what will be man’s response to these and the other horrendous judgments? “They blasphemed the God of heaven . . . and they did not repent of their deeds” (16:11). And so, the Lord will return in glory; at Armageddon He will defeat the universal rebellion against Him; and His millennial reign will begin. When these cataclysmic events will begin, the Bible does not reveal. But in the meantime, our current troubles should provoke believers to draw near to the Lord in faith, obedience, and love.
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