Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples asked Him about His second coming. They wanted to know when it would occur, as well as the “end of the world.” In Matthew 24 Jesus described the signs that would lead up to these events. People who fear God and accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, take what is written in Matthew 24 seriously. But many others know nothing about Matthew 24 and are unaware of the terrible things that lie ahead for mankind. Jesus warned that very near the time of His return there . . . ” shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matt. 24:21-22). Mark repeats this warning. He wrote: “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days” (Mark 13:19-20).
The book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John, takes us into the prophetic future. Shortly before the return of Christ, it speaks of a martyrdom of saints. These faithful martyrs of God were given robes of righteousness. When asked who were those dressed in white robes, John was told: “. . . These are they which came out of [the] great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). This tribulation is described in Revelation 6:9-11. “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Rev. 6:9-11). Satan is behind this persecution. He is angry with the people of God. “And the dragon [Satan, v. 9] was wroth with the woman [the Church, v. 13] and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17).
The prophet Daniel prophesied of a powerful figure who is destined to appear on the world scene near the “time of the end” (Dan. 7:26-27). This wicked man would “. . . speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws. . . ” (Dan. 7:25). John tells us, “. . . it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (Rev. 13:7). From the very beginning Christians have been persecuted, but the persecution that is destined to take place at the time of the end will make all others pale by comparison. John calls it [the] great tribulation (Rev. 14:7).
The Time of the End
The Apostle Paul warned about the time of the end. He wrote Timothy: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1). We are living in perilous times. It has been said it took God one week to create the earth, but man can now destroy it in one hour. Remember, Jesus’ disciples asked for the sign of His coming and the end of the world (Matt. 24:3). Jesus gave a number of events which indicate the time of the end. Look specifically at Matthew 24:15-16. Here we read: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (Matt. 24:15-16). This is certainly one of the identifying signs. But, there is much speculation as to what is meant by the words “abomination of desolation.” Some believe the Temple refers to the Church, and the abomination refers to a “falling away from the Truth.” The general belief held by many Protestants, however, is that “the abomination of desolation” refers to an idol which will be set up in a Temple yet to be built in Jerusalem. Perhaps so. If this is the case, it will be so obvious that anyone versed in the Bible should be able to recognize it. But Jesus said, referring to His Coming, “. . . of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. . . . Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:36, 44). This is a clear implication that it will not be that easy to recognize the sign of His coming.
As soon as this abomination is set up, the Tribulation will begin (vv.21-22). Immediately following the Tribulation, a series of unprecedented events will transpire in the heavens. Jesus foretold this when He said: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Matt. 24:29). Mark commented on this same series of events. “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,” (Mark 13:24). Right after these heavenly signs, the second coming of Christ will occur. We read: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
What needs to be realized is that the Tribulation is a time of colossal trial and testing for the saints. Notice, it takes place at the “time of the end.” Daniel was told: “. . . Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:9-10).
Upon Israel and the Church
The Tribulation, however, is not limited to the Church. It will also be upon God’s chosen people-Israel. Jeremiah foretold events that are to take place in the “latter days” (Jer. 30:24). During these latter days, He spoke of Jacob’s trouble. “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7). Jacob is another name for Israel. Daniel prophesied the same. He referred repeatedly to “the time of the end” (Dan. 11:35, 40; 12:4, 9). What did Daniel say would take place within at this time? “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:1-2). This passage closely parallels the words of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 24:21-22. When does this time of trouble take place? At the time of the Resurrection! Paul said the Resurrection will occur when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:22-23, 1 Thess. 4:16).
Earlier, in this article, we have seen what the Bible says about the Church. Let us reemphasize: There is a persecution coming against Christians who hold to the true teachings of the Bible! Daniel stated that a powerful figure will “. . . speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (Dan. 7:25). This will occur during a three and one-half year period. As we have seen, this is mentioned in Revelation 13:5-7. “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” Also, notice the connection between this time period and the Temple. “And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months” (Rev. 11:1-2). All indications are that there shall be a persecution upon both the Church and Israel.
Whole World to Suffer God’s Wrath
The Tribulation upon Israel and the Church is just the beginning. A serious time of trouble is prophesied for the entire world. It is important to understand the time sequence here. In the Bible, the time when God will set His hand to punish the world is called “the Day of the Lord.” The Day of the Lord is not Sunday. Over 30 prophecies mention this time period. These prophecies have nothing to do with a day of worship, and any Concordance will quickly dispel this notion. Notice what John records in Revelation 3:10. The Church of Philadelphia is told: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of [trial], which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” This is near the time of the end because Jesus told this church: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev. 3:11). This time of trial-the wrath of God-will take place after the Tribulation upon Israel and the Church. How do we know this? The fifth seal of Revelation depicts the Tribulation of the saints (Rev. 6:9-11). The sixth seal ushers in the Day of the Lord (Rev. 6:12). The Day of Lord is introduced by the heavenly signs. It is called the “day of his wrath” (Rev. 6:17). This corresponds with Jesus’ statements in Matthew 24:21-22 and 29-30. The Day of the Lord is mentioned three times in the beginning chapters of Joel. See Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11. Then in Joel 2:30-31 we read: “And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.” And what will happen in that day?
For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low. . . . And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols he shall utterly abolish. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth (Isa. 2:12, 17-19).
This period of wrath is also described in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8. Paul assures the Christian brethren that God is not forgetful of their sufferings for the Kingdom of God. Then he writes: “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:6-8). This vengeance of fire is depicted in Isaiah 66:15-16. “For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.”
Sins Are Increased
God is a God of mercy, but He is also a God of justice. “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:33). Yet, men will be held accountable for the evil they commit; they shall not go unpunished (Jer. 49:12). “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;” (Rom.1:18). Here is what God says to His people Israel:
Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood (Hos. 4:1-2). All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased. Why criest thou for thine affliction? thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee (Jer. 30:14-15).
Today, most people have little knowledge of right and wrong as God defines it. They do not know how to define sin. What is the Bible definition of sin? Read it in 1 John 3:4: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Crime in America has reached horrendous proportions, yet most people do not view cursing and taking God’s name in vain as a crime. Yet, it is more than a crime. It is a sin. Misusing God’s name is a violation of the third commandment. Most people do not view divorce and remarriage as sin, yet it is a violation of the seventh commandment. Most people take no thought of working on Saturday-the seventh day of the week-yet it is a violation of the fourth commandment.
Take a look at crime itself. Most of the crime committed in the world today not only involves breaking the law of the land, but also breaking the Law of God. In the United States today it is reported that 60% of Americans limit the places they will go alone, 33% limit the places they will shop, and 22% limit where they will work. Wayne LaPierre gives some startling statistics in his book, Guns, Crime, and Freedom, published in 1994. He points out that in 1994 one American will lose his or her life to violent crime every 21 minutes. One woman will be raped every 5 minutes. One of our citizens will be robbed every 46 seconds, assaulted every 29 seconds, or have his or her home invaded by a burglar every 5 seconds. La Pierre tells us that day in and day out, a torrent of crime has changed the way we live, the way we think of one another, and the way we look at our country and the future (LaPierre, 113). LaPierre quotes a Justice Department report which states:
Overall crime rates have been stable or declining in recent years; however, violent crime has increased for some groups. Violent crime rates for teenagers increased in recent years, while rates for other age groups remained stable or declined. . . . From 1973 to 1991, 36.6 million people were injured as a result of violent crime including over 6 million people who received serious injuries (LaPierre, 158).
LaPierre points out that crime needs to be treated as a moral issue. The most important task is to promote a sense of the value of life. Individuals are not to be killed, harmed, or robbed because it is morally wrong. Only slightly less critical, LaPierre says, is the need to support the family as an institution, and to emphasize the importance of work in molding character and escaping poverty (LaPierre, 161). He adds that an important part of the answer to halt the growth of crime is the recreation of the moral framework that once guided the conduct of the vast majority of people in America (165). The role of churches is particularly necessary since only they can speak of the ultimate consequences of immorality (LaPierre, 162).
But how can the churches speak of the ultimate consequences of immorality when they do not know what is the Bible definition of immorality? If they do not know, or refuse to acknowledge the Bible definition of sin, then they cannot tell us what immorality is. No wonder God says to the religious leaders: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (Hos. 4:6). And to the people, He says: “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts” (Jer. 2:19).
Here is how the prophet Isaiah describes God’s people:
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment (Isa. 1:2-6).
The parallel of the above passage to modern day America is striking. Is it really any different today than it was in the days of old? Again, what does God say to those who have been led astray? “Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” (Jer. 7:8-10). When the majority of the people in America and in the world regard God as irrelevant, and that the Law of God applied to some ancient time period only, how can one expect any other reaction than the one above?
At the time of the end the entire world will come to know the power and authority of God. God is now allowing men to go their own way and to learn the bitter lesson of disregarding Him. The sins of the world have increased. God will not sit silent forever. “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy” (Zeph. 3:8).
“But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap” (Mal. 3:2). “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. . . (Mal. 3:7). Here is the way to receive God’s blessings and deliverance. Who may abide the day of his coming? The answer: Those who recognize what sin is and then turn from it!