Bible Questions and Answers: The Tribulation

Matthew McGee

Q: Why do you say the 144,000 in the tribulation will all be young men of Israel?

A: We know that the 144,000 are all men because of Revelation 14:4 which says, "These are they which were not defiled with women ...." The obvious implication is that they are all men. But besides that, the 144,000 will be taking the position of priests, as was prophesied in Exodus 19:5-6 and in Zechariah 8:20-23. Of course, all of the priests were men, and they were all Israelites. We also know they are all Israelites because Revelation 7:1-8 lists the specific tribes of Israel from which the 144,000 will be chosen.

They do not yet know that they will be among the 144,000. The 144,000 will be sealed with the Holy Spirit at some future time. Until then, they do not have the Holy Spirit for guidance. There is nothing in scripture to indicate that any of them will be aware that they are one of the 144,000 before the time that they are sealed.

Q: How do we know that the tribulation will last seven years?

A: Daniel 9:26-27 shows that there will be a seven year period (of 360 day years) in the middle of which the beast (or "prince" or "antichrist") will commit the abomination that causes desolation in the Holy of Holies, as Jesus Christ said in Matthew 24:15.

This seven year period is also laid out in the book of Revelation. In the first half, the two witnesses shall prophesy 1260 days (Revelation 11:3). Technically, the first half is not called the "great tribulation", but the plagues during that time will still be horrible. Then in the middle of that seven years (the 70th week of Daniel's prophecy) the beast shall kill the two witnesses and he will reign for 42 months (Revelation 13:5). That period is known in scripture as the "time of Jacob's trouble" or the "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21). It is that same 3 1/2 years that the remnant of Israel will be protected in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6 and 12:14).

Q: During the tribulation, I understand that the church will have been raptured and the dispensation of the law will resume. But will it be like the law in the old testament, or will the adherents to the law know that Jesus Christ is the Messiah?

A: In the old testament under the law of Moses, Israel was always looking forward to the coming of their Messiah, who would redeem them, save them from their enemies, and set up His kingdom on earth forever. There were many prophecies in the old testament about the Messiah, but Israel still did not know that His name would be Jesus.

Likewise, during the seven year tribulation Israel will not know who their Messiah is. Those who are not among the elect will follow the Anti-Christ to their doom, but that is another topic. The believing Israelites will once again be keeping the law of Moses and looking forward to their Messiah coming. Even though they do not read that portion of scripture commonly called the "new testament", they will see all the terrible signs spoken of in the old testament and know that it is the "Day of the LORD" and that the arrival of the Messiah is very near. If you have read the article on The Seven Churches of Revelation , then you know that I teach that the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are not grace dispensation churches like those of today. Rather, they are assemblies of believing Israelites like those that will exist during the tribulation. Notice that in speaking to them in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus Christ never reveals His name. He always refers to Himself by some kind of phrase related to the Messiah. But He does not say that He is Jesus or that He died on the cross for them. That will be kept secret until the end of the tribulation..

After describing the battle of Armageddon, God says in Zechariah 12:10, "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn." At the end of the seven year tribulation, God will fill all of the elect of Israel with the Holy Spirit. Then they will realize what their fathers did to the Messiah. The phrase, "whom they have pierced" refers to how Jesus Christ was run through with a spear after dying on the cross. Israel will also realize that their thousands of years of having been scattered, persecuted, and spiritually lost, was all due to their rejection of Jesus. The nation suffered because they had refused to accept the Messiah at His first coming.

Another key verse is in Zechariah 13. The first few verses let us know that this passage is talking about when Christ returns to set up His kingdom on the earth. Then Zechariah 13:6 says, "And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." Certainly no one who knew that the Messiah was Jesus Christ would ask Him how He got those wounds in His hands. But when God pours out His Spirit upon them, they will realize who He is.

Q: When will the dividing of the sheep and the goats, recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, take place, before or after the thousand year kingdom?

A: Verse 31 begins with "When the Son of man shall come in his glory ...." So we know this will occur at the end of the seven year tribulation and right before the thousand year kingdom begins. Verse 34 also shows that this will occur at the beginning of the kingdom. The Son of man will tell the sheep, "... Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you ...."

Many people accidentally confuse Matthew 25:31-46 with the great white throne judgment, recorded in Revelation 20:11-15, which will happen after the thousand year kingdom. But the sheep and goats will all be living people on earth at the time of the dividing of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. But the great white throne judgment in Revelation 20 will be the judgment of all of the lost people of all time. Thus, in the great white throne judgment, there will be no division to be made, since all those who will be present will be lost.

Q: Where does America fit into the prophecies of the end times?

A: Many Bible students have noticed the apparent absence of the United States from the Bible prophecies about the future tribulation. Europe, Russia, and the kingdoms of the far east are all mentioned as playing major roles in the tribulation events, but the United States does not appear to be specifically mentioned anywhere in scripture. As a result, many Bible students believe that something prior to or near the beginning of the tribulation must take place that will cause the United States to decline out of its present super-power status, to that of a weaker, less significant nation. I doubt there is any way we can know with any certainty until it actually happens, because of the shortage of scripture references. However, there are several ways that this could happen.

(1.) One possibility would be a collapse of the economy of the United States. This could conceivably occur as a result of war, terrorism, poor leadership, or anything else that could result in an economic depression.

(2) Another possibility is that a nuclear war could cripple the United States militarily and otherwise. Ezekiel chapters 38-39 describe how there will be a great attack on the nation of Israel. The attack is likely to occur early in the tribulation, at the second seal, the red horse of Revelation chapter 6. (For details of tribulation, including the second seal, see The Tribulation: Israel's Seventieth Week .) This attack will involve a coalition of nations led by Magog (Russia). When they attack Israel, God says in Ezekiel 39:6, "I will send a fire on Magog, and them that dwell carelessly in the Isles ...." The phrase, "them that dwell carelessly in the Isles" may be a reference to the United States. Militarily, it does seem like a possible scenario, a nuclear war involving Russia and the United States, triggered by a Russian led, all-out invasion of the Middle East.

(3) A third possibility is that the rapture of the church, which will occur before the tribulation, could remove enough people in key positions to greatly weaken the United States, due to the loss of the expertise at those key positions. I tend to think this is not very likely, because I do not think the percentage of true believers in this country is nearly as high as is commonly thought.

(4) Another possibility is much like the third possibility, but looking at more of a long term effect. The presence of the true believers in America is one of the few things that slows the degradation of the overall character of America. The presence of the church has an effect on politics, economics, the media, et cetera. In a country where most elections and votes on legislation are very close, hinging upon a small percentage of swing voters, the removal of a significant constituency from the side of the good, along with our influence, would have a very large impact. Thus, the removal of the church at the rapture may result in America moving from its present gradual moral decline into an headlong dive into outright depravity, which would in turn weaken America and its influence upon world events.

(5) One other possible reason why America may lose its present super-power status may be found in Genesis 12:1-3, "Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." One of the main reasons that America is so blessed is that this country has been the primary ally of the nation of Israel. If in its moral decline, America ceases to be a friend of Israel, or even begins to oppose Israel, America will fall out of God's blessing. This could either take place prior to the rapture of the church or after the rapture, as a result of it.

But as I stated at the beginning, we simply do not know how this will play out, because the Bible does not provide much detail on this specific question.

Q: Does the Bible say that the Apostle John would not die before the Lord's return?

A: The Bible does not say that John would not die before the Lord's return, although many believers at that time thought that he would not.

In John 21:18, Jesus said to Peter, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." John wrote and explained in verse 19 that, "This spake he (Jesus), signifying by what death he (Peter) should glorify God. And when he (Jesus) had spoken this, he (Jesus) saith unto him (Peter), Follow me."

John 21:20-21 says, "Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved (John) following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?" In verse 22, "Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me."

Then John 21:23 continues, "Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"" So John attempted to correct the mistaken rumor that he would not die, clarifying that Christ said it as a question with an "if". Even so, when the Son of God makes such reply, it should make Bible students wonder whether He has something very special in mind for John.

Now let us look back at a previous account in Luke 9:27 when Jesus said to the disciples, "But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God." This passage occurs just before passage that gives the account of Christ's transfiguration, which was witnessed by Peter, James, and John. Thus, many consider the transfiguration to be the fulfillment of Luke 9:27. But note that Christ's question in John 21:22, "... If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? ...", occurred after the Christ's resurrection, much later than the transfiguration event of Luke 9, suggesting that Jesus still had something else in mind. Consider another possibility:

Now let's carefully look again at Luke 9:27, where Jesus said, "... there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God." Unlike the word "some" in the English language which implies plurality, the Greek word "tis" that is translated "some" in Luke 9:27 does not imply plurality. In fact, "a certain one" is one definition for that Greek Word. So Jesus may have been referring to how John in particular would "see the kingdom of God." Consider the visions that John saw before he wrote the book of Revelation

Jesus Christ will return from Heaven on a white horse and slay the armies of all the nations with the sword of His mouth (the Word of God) at the battle of Armageddon. In Revelation 19:11-16 John describes what he saw, "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." Then the kingdom is described in the latter chapters of Revelation.

So Luke 9:27 may in fact be a reference to how the visions in the book of Revelation, including the second coming and the kingdom, would be revealed to John before his death. Likewise, Christ's response to Peter in John 21:22 may also have been with this in mind.

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