I am firmly in the camp of those who believe and teach that nothing has to be fulfilled before the first major future prophetic event – the Rapture of the church. This is the word that theologians use to describe the snatching up of His church from off the earth by the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus all of our prophetic charts will start with that event. Yes, I said charts – as in plural. As I organized this material I realized that the prophetic future for Israel is far different than it is for the church – in spite of some events that some of Israel will share with the church as they become part of it. Likewise, the prophetic future for Satan is different than either Israel’s or the church’s and those of the other two members of the unholy trinity, the beast and the false prophet, even differ from that of Satan. We’ll see that the prophetic future for unsaved gentiles entering the Tribulation differs in minor details from that of unsaved Jews at the same point in time.
The most concentrated source of future prophetic insight is found in the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, this book is also the happy hunting grounds for those who have a zeal for “spiritualizing” scriptures. As set forth in the doctrinal position papers on our web site and in our doctrinal statement, we always lean toward the literal interpretation of scripture unless the immediate context or other scriptures bearing on the same subject force us to take it figuratively. Once you allow free rein at spiritualizing you can get an almost unlimited number of faulty interpretations. Time will now allow us to refute every false interpretation that is out there. We hope that a presentation based on what the scriptures literally say will enable us to see the prophetic scriptures as a consistent whole. To my mind there is only one issue about which Revelation does not give sufficient information to be of firm opinion. Fortunately, it falls at the end of the chart.
In our study we will focus our attention on scriptures that proclaim each event with special attention to scriptures that shed light on the sequence of the events, rather than describing the events themselves. We are effectively assuming that you are acquainted with the broad outlines of the events we will be examining. We will be bringing out points of interest without trying to provide comprehensive treatment.
The Tribulation Period
At the same time that the church is raptured God begins to pour His wrath and vengeance on the earth in a period known as the Tribulation. The Tribulation period is divided into two halves of 3 ½ years or 42 months of 1260 days. All three forms of this span of time are used in prophecy. They are based on what is called the prophetic year of 12 months of 30 days each. We have firm biblical evidence that this was the nature of the calendar before the meteoritic impact on earth within a couple of hundred years of the Noahic Flood. The evidence consists of the fact that Gen. 7:2 says the Flood started in the 17th day of the second month. Gen. 8:3-4 gives the duration as 150 days and says that the ark grounded on the 17th day of the seventh month – exactly 5 months after it started.
Returning to the two halves of 42 months, both halves together are called the Tribulation Period, but the second half is called the Great Tribulation.
The judgments begin with a set of six judgments called the seal judgments. Each of these judgments on earth is triggered by Christ in heaven opening a seal on a multi-sealed scroll.
Our first point of interest in the seal judgments is the rider on the white horse who appears with the breaking of the first seal. (Rev. 6:2) Since he is riding a white horse many have concluded that he is Christ. This does not fit the context at all. This rider is antichrist who not only appears at the start of the Tribulation but who almost defines the duration of the Tribulation. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called The Islamic Antichrist. It shows how many parallels there are between the biblical description of antichrist and the Islamic hero of the end times – the one they call The Mahdi. Although I’m only 20% of the way through it, I’ve already seen that both will rule the world politically, economically and religiously. Both will have the adulation of the great majority of people in the world. Both will ride a white horse and both are said to have a reign of 7 years. To be fair, a few Islamic authorities place the reign of The Mahdi at 8 or 9 years but 7 is the most-quoted figure and obviously all agree that it will be a short reign for someone who commands such great popularity.
Our next point of interest is Rev. 6:8. At the opening of the fourth seal we see a rider on a pale horse and “the name of him that sat on it was Death – and Hades followed with him.” Death and Hades definitely appear to be personified here. The only way we could say that death could ride a horse would be if the horse were dead. Our choices are spiritualize this away or to accept that the lore of the Grim Reaper might not be so far off from the truth. There is no shortage of other scriptures that suggest the same thing: Rev. 20:14, I Cor. 15:26, 55.
Next stop is the next verse. In Rev. 6:9-10 we see that the breaking of the fifth seal reveals under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and for their testimony. This is our first glimpse of what we call the Tribulation saints – those who have been saved during the Tribulation and martyred. They are crying out to God for vengeance against those who killed them. On the chart we show a path coming out of the fifth seal to represent the Tribulation martyrs. There will be martyrs throughout the Tribulation period, but this is the only place they are mentioned until after all of the judgments are over, so this is where we connect them.
Of course, there will be wicked people dying throughout the Tribulation. They will all go immediately to torment in Sheol, as shown in the chart. On that chart a single line coming from each of the three sets of divine judgments represents the fatalities from that set of judgments.
The breaking of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12) serves as an example of our dictum that at times comparing scripture with scripture forces us to take a certain passage as figurative. Consider Joel 2:31:
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.” When it says the sun will be turned into darkness we’re probably inclined to take it figuratively whereas if it said the sun will be darkened we’d take it literally with no problem. The next clause is even harder to take literally. Will the moon really be turned into blood? Now consider Rev. 6:12: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.” Gramatically these are called similes. In this case the Revelation account is the one that is naturally taken literally and the one that proves that the Joel passage is to be taken figuratively.
We were told in Rev. 5:1 that the scroll which Jesus, the Lamb, is opening has seven scrolls. Since the results of opening each of the first six followed immediately after each other we might expect the seventh to follow hard on the heels of the sixth, but it does not. Instead, we have the first of several interludes. In this one we see 12,000 men from each of the 12 tribes of Israel being sealed for their work for God during the Tribulation. Their work is to serve as missionaries to the entire world. This may sound like a pitiful number to reach the whole world, but consider this: in 1967 the number of Protestant missionaries in the whole world was 43,000. We must realize that at that point many liberal churches were still sending out what they called missionaries, but they surely were not preaching the gospel. The number of missionaries is surely less than that now. Yet after this sealing, there will be more than three times that number and they will all be preaching the truth. Besides that, the judgments of God will get the attention of those who God wills to be saved and those same judgments will harden the others. “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (Rom. 9:18) The seal protects these missionaries from harm even as people are dying all around them. The success of their labors is shown in Rev. 7:9 where, immediately after seeing the sealing of the 144,000, John sees a great multitude which no man can number of all nations, kindreds and tongues. Then in v.13 an elder tells John that this multitude are those that have come out of great Tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Although I think that Revelation is generally chronological, there are some marked exceptions. Like any other scripture issue, the proper chronology is determined by comparison with other scriptures that touch on the same subject. I think that the soul harvest of these missionaries comes from the entire Tribulation period, although at the time they are sealed it is just getting started. The chronology is stretched to show cause (the sealed Jews) and effect (the saved souls).
When the seventh seal is finally opened (Rev. 8:1-2, 6) the only judgment that ensues is the revealing of seven angels with trumpets, each of which will unleash another judgment when they sound. After the fourth trumpet sounds (Rev. 8:12) an angel flies through heaven crying out “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” Thus the last three of the trumpet blasts are also called the three woes. The judgments are getting more severe. I believe the woes may be the start of the Great Tribulation.
Although most of the judgments to date have resulted in human fatalities, the only one of the seals where a percentage figure is given the fourth seal (Death and Hades) which will kill ¼ of all people. This would leave at most ¾ of the pre-Tribulation population alive. With the fifth trumpet judgment we have a switch. (Rev. 9:1-6) Men are not dying. Rather, the pain from the “locust” stings is so severe that men want to die but Death will flee from them. This also sounds like personification of Death.
The sixth trumpet (the second woe) (Rev. 9:12-21) reveals an army of 200,000,000 who will kill 1/3 of the people on earth. A third of the remaining less than ¾ means we are now down to less than half of the original population.
Just as we had an interlude after the first six seal judgments, we have one after the first six trumpet judgments. This interlude is the ministry of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3-13). It is very significant that after the beast succeeded in killing these two men (when nobody else had been able to do so) and they arose from the dead it says that “In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Rev. 11:13b). That has not been the response of men on earth to the plagues up to this point. The significance is that this is in Jerusalem and presumably these are Jews who are giving God the glory. We know that Israel will make a covenant with antichrist for seven years to secure protection from their enemies. Dan. 9:27 reads “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.” The Jews see this as a betrayal, but it gets worse. According to II Thess. 2:3b-4 “the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” Any Jew would recognize this as blasphemy. The warning of Jesus about the same thing is found in Matt. 24:15: “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand)”. The holy place is, of course, the temple and the abomination is what the antichrist does there. So the significance of it being in Jerusalem is that it suggests that Israel is being “softened up” by God
At this point there is a small departure from the parallelism to the seal judgments because in this case the seventh trumpet sounds (which is also the third woe) and the scripture reports nothing except some exultant worship in heaven. Then there is another interlude – containing four different scenes.
The first scene in this interlude is the woman “clothed with the sun”. The entirety of Chapter 12 is given over to telling about her. This one is very important because by this time there is no doubt that Israel has now broken with antichrist. Rev. 12 tells the story of the efforts of Satan to that end and how God foiled them. Rev. 12:6 says “Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” There’s that magic number again, which marks Israel’s flight at the exact midpoint of the Tribulation.
If anyone questions the identification of the woman of v.1 as Israel they ought to read Gen. 37:9-10. Further proof of identity is found in the description of her son in v.5. It says he is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. This phrase appears first in Psalm 2:9, which is universally recognized as a Messianic psalm. Then it is found in Rev. 19:15 in describing the victorious return of Jesus. We might also note here that Rev. 12:4-5 are not in chronological sequence because they describe events from the past – the fall of Satan and his angels, the birth of Jesus Christ and the efforts of Satan (thru Herod) to destroy Him.
The second scene of this interlude occupies the entirety of Chapter 13. This chapter does not appear to be in chronological sequence because it describes the rise of the beast (or antichrist) as if it were a new event, whereas we know he has been prominent on the world stage for at least 3.5 years before this, among other things, posing as Israel’s protector. The discrepancy is easily explained. What John is revealing here is not the person of the antichrist, but his true nature, which finally asserts itself at the midpoint of the Tribulation. A similar thing can be said about the revelation of the false prophet (Rev. 13:11-18), the third member of the unholy trinity. We shall have substantially more to say about him in a later message in this series.
The third scene we might call 144,000 redux. They stand triumphant with Christ on Mt. Zion. (Rev. 14:1-5) The rest of the chapter we might call “A flight of angels”. All of these angels are prophets, proclaiming things that have not happened yet in the narrative, but very soon would. The first said that the hour of God’s judgment was come. In spite of the fact that we are halfway thru the Tribulation at this point in time, God is just getting started so to speak. A second angel tells what is going to happen to those who take the mark of the beast. It’s not pretty! A third angel, supposedly a messenger, tells the Lord Jesus that it is time to reap the earth with his sickle. He does so and the earth is reaped. It has been suggested that this is the coming reaping of the gentile nations. Israel is next. A fourth angel appears – also with a sickle and a fifth angel tells the fourth that it is time to “gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” The grapes are harvested and cast into the winepress of the wrath of God and an enormous amount of blood flows out. This is one scripture we might be willing to take figuratively, since the prescribed 1600 furlongs is 200 miles and Israel is only 240 miles long from top to bottom. I’m aware that grape juice is called the blood of the grape, but since this vision prefigures the coming Battle of Armageddon, I’m pretty sure we are talking about real human and maybe animal blood here because that is what we would expect to be the consequence of the wrath of God.
The fourth scene in the interlude is also looking ahead of the narrative. In Rev. 15:1 we are introduced to the seven angels who will unleash the last seven plagues of God. We also see a celebration of those who had “gotten the victory over the beast.”
The narrative resumes in Rev. 16. The seven angels begin pouring out their bowls of the wrath of God. The KJV refers to these as vials for the simple reason that vial is the English cognate for the Greek word in the sacred text. However, that is not the meaning of the word. Thayer’s lexicon gives “a broad, shallow bowl, deep saucer”. These judgments are humdingers! The first bowl causes “a foul and loathsome sore” to break out on those who have taken the mark of the beast – in partial fulfillment of the angelic prophecy of Rev. 14:9-10. The second and third bowl judgments turn first the standing bodies of water and then the flowing ones into blood so the people on earth must either drink blood or die of thirst. To make their decision easier the fourth bowl judgment causes the heat of the sun to increase greatly.
The fifth bowl was poured onto the headquarters of the beast, bringing darkness and exquisite pain to those there, presumably including the beast himself. The sixth bowl dried up the Euphrates River so that the armies from the east could march in to the holy land. This bowl also released demonic spirits from the mouths of all three members of the unholy trinity. The mission of these demons was to go over the whole world and draw armies from everywhere to battle against the armies of Jesus.
It is almost funny that after the seventh bowl is poured out a voice from heaven says “It is done” because immediately after that pronouncement there was the greatest earthquake of all time. It divided Jerusalem into three parts (v.19) and other cities around the world collapsed completely. All the islands on earth were immersed and the mountains were flattened. Then there was mega-hail with each hailstone weighing about 65 pounds meaning each hailstone would be close to 8” in diameter. This doesn’t sound at all like God was done. What it means, of course, is that the seventh judgment was the earthquake, the loss of all islands and mountains and the hailstones.
There is again an interlude before we get to the Battle of Armageddon. It is a very important interlude indeed, as Revelation gives over two whole chapters to the fall of Babylon. We will not go into this in great detail, but we do need to point out certain things about it.
First, it must be understood that two aspects of Babylon are addressed in these chapters. The first is spiritual Babylon. Terms pointing to spiritual Babylon include “whore” in 17:1, “fornication” in 17:2, and 4, “blasphemy” in 17:3, abominations in v.4 and 5 and harlot in v.5. Complicating matters further is the fact that even most commentators who, like myself, take the Bible very literally see the use of Babylon in one or both of these aspects as symbolic or figurative.
“Mystery Babylon” lies in the realm of things that are well known and even recognized by secular scholars who refer to what we might call her “offspring” as Babylonian mystery religions. This religion originated with Semiramis, the wife of arch-apostate Nimrod to whom we are introduced in Gen. 10:8-10. The Jewish historian, Josephus, reports that after the flood of Noah God urged the people to spread out and establish colonies, but it was Nimrod who persuaded them to disobey. Josephus describes Nimrod as “a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God as if it was through His means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, - seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if He should have a mind to drown the world again, for that he would build a tower too high for the water to be able to reach and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers.”
Semiramis bore a son she named Tammuz. Being familiar with Genesis 3:15, she declared that Tammuz had been miraculously conceived without male involvement. She styled herself “The Queen of Heaven”. The people bought into her lie and she established a religion based on veneration of mother and child. The rites of this religion were secret, thus the name mystery religion. Unfortunately for mother and son, Tammuz was killed in a wild boar hunt. Semiramis was temporarily stymied. How could she account to the people for their god dying? Then she concocted the story that every spring he came back to life and brought life back to the earth. Amazingly, the people bought this story. I’m now quoting from Dr. Harry Ironside on this subject from his book Lectures on Revelation.
“From Babylon this mystery-religion spread to all the surrounding nations…Everywhere the symbols were the same and everywhere the cult of the mother and the child became the popular system: their worship was celebrated with the most disgusting and immoral practices. The image of the queen of heaven with the babe in her arms was seen everywhere, though the name might differ as languages differed. It became the mystery-religion of Phoenicia, and by the Phoenicians was carried to the ends of the earth. Astaroth and Tammuz, the mother and child of these hardy adventurers, became Isis and Horus in Egypt, Aphrodite and Eros in Greece, Venus and Cupid in Italy, and bore many other names in more distant places. [and, I might add, Baal and Ashtaroth in Canaan – and Israel!] Within 1000 years Babylonianism had become the religion of the world, which had rejected Divine revelation.
“Linked with this central mystery were countless lesser mysteries…Among these were the doctrines of purgatorial purification after death, salvation by countless sacraments such as priestly absolution, sprinkling with holy water, the offering of round cakes to the queen of heaven as mentioned in the book of Jeremiah [7:18], dedication of virgins to the gods, which was literally sanctified prostitution, weeping for Tammuz [Eze. 8:14] for a period of 40 days, prior to the great festival of Istar, who was said to have received her son back from the dead…To him the egg was sacred, as depicting the mystery of his resurrection, even as the evergreen was his chosen symbol and was set up in honor of his birth at the winter solstice, when a boar’s head was eaten in memory of his conflict and a yule-log burned with many mysterious observances. The sign of the cross was sacred to Tammuz, as symbolizing his life-giving principle and as the first letter of his name.”
I might also mention that hot-cross buns bear the initial of Tammuz.
Ironside went on to say that it was from this religion that God called Abraham. But the mystery religion kept making inroads into the religious life of the nations that sprang from Abraham.
The account here in Revelation 17 adds the information that this harlot woman sits on seven mountains and that she is “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth”. I can’t imagine what this woman could be referring to, can you? Do you see anything in this account that suggests this might refer to the Catholic Church? I suggest you not restrict your thinking to the obvious. After the rapture of the church all of the Christians will be gone and only the unsaved of ALL denominations will be left on earth. It is hard to believe that they would not band together just on that basis. It is even harder to believe they will not band together with the false prophet herding them into a one-world church and showing miracles to supposedly authenticate his spiritual credentials.
The fall of commercial Babylon is recounted in Rev. 18:11-19 and the rejoicing of the righteous over its fall is found in 18:20-19:4. I’m inclined to consider commercial Babylon as a spiritualization. In the first place, there is no city named Babylon that could be considered a world commercial power or anything even remotely approaching it. Of course, it is possible that the Lord will delay His coming long enough for a new Babylon to achieve that status, but I doubt it. Another possibility is that some major commercial center will change its name. However, if this were to happen before the Rapture, I imagine that the hue and cry from the Christians would be likely to torpedo the idea. Of course, it could be done after the Rapture, but then it becomes essentially the same as interpreting the name symbolically.
So let’s consider the possibility that the name is to be taken symbolically. What city might be referred to? I’ll leave you to ponder that and we will move on toward the battle of Armageddon, which is reported in Rev. 19:11-21. Based on just this passage we might think that Jesus is going to mete out destruction to the opposing armies of the beast for their defiance of Him. However, Joel gives another reason entirely:
“I will also gather all nations,
And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
And I will enter into judgment with them there
On account of My people, My heritage Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
They have also divided up My land.”
This opens up a whole new dimension, doesn’t it? This is as current as today. This is going on today. Zechariah 14:2-3 adds the information that the Beast’s armies will arrive in Jerusalem before the Lord arrives with His armies and will wreak mayhem:
For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
The city shall be taken,
The houses rifled,
And the women ravished.
Half of the city shall go into captivity,
But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations
The entire army of the beast is slain by the sword that proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus, because at this point there is not a single regenerate person in the Beast’s army. We are never told who makes up the army of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 19:19). I guess I’ve always considered that it would be made up of us, the saints. Now I doubt it. We will have just been married to Christ (Rev. 19:6-10) and would it be seemly for his bride to go out on the battlefield with Him? It can hardly be the Tribulation saints, because they have not been resurrected yet. My best guess is that it is either the heavenly host or those who never got the mark of the beast but somehow managed to escape the beast’s pogrom – preference to the former possibility.
Our time is up for tonight. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll again take up the subject of Israel’s prophetic future.
Well, what are the applications for us?
1. If you can imagine yourself on earth and the impact each of the described judgments would have on you, you must realize how much of your justly deserved punishment you have been saved from. All of us ought to be giving God our heartfelt thanks every day for His mercy.
2. As we see the increasing wickedness in our nation and around the world we ought to be crying out to God for justice for the oppressed. This does not seem likely to happen until the Lord returns. We ought to be praying for His return every day.
3. We ought to redouble our efforts to reach the lost while there is still day. The night comes when no man can work. This is particularly true of Israel. Most of us know few Jewish people, but let us pray for opportunities to share Christ with them and the wisdom to do it in a winning way.