The Tribulation

September 20, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


When I say “tribulation,” I am not referring to just any kind of trouble or affliction believers experience in life such as persecution, poverty, sickness, sorrow, or trials that test a believer’s faith. Instead, I am referring to a seven-year period of worldwide unprecedented trouble just before the second coming of Christ. It is a period of time when God will finish His discipline of Israel and finalize His judgment of the unbelieving world.

  Throughout Scripture, the tribulation is referred to by other names such as the Day of the Lord (Is 2:12; 13:6-9; Joel 1:15; 2:1-31; 1Th 5:2), or time of distress for Jacob (Jer 30:7).   Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the tribulation in His sermon on the Mt of Olives just a few days before His crucifixion (Mt 24-25, Mk 13, Lk 21). In this sermon on the end times, He divides the tribulation in two parts: the first part He calls “the beginning of birth pains” and the second, the “great tribulation.” The beginning of the great tribulation is marked by the setting up of the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by the prophet Daniel (Dan 11:31; 12:11). This is referred to specifically by Jesus in Matt. 24:15 and by Paul in 2Th 2:3-4. The most detailed description of what will happen in the tribulation is of course found in the book of Revelation, particularly from chapters 6 to 18.   If you want to understand the purpose and timing of tribulation, you need to go to Daniel 9:24-27. Let’s look into this for a moment before we go continue our study of the seals in Revelation 6.   Context and content of Daniel 9:24-27   While reading the Scriptures, Daniel learned that the number of years that Jerusalem would remain in ruins would be 70 years. Most probably he read Jeremiah 25:11 that says, “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” When he realized that the seventy years of God’s discipline were almost over, Daniel turns to God in prayer, seeking mercy for Jerusalem.   God answers Danile’s prayer by sending the angel Gabriel to appear to him and explain that another period of 70 “weeks” are decreed for God's people. In Daniel 9:24 in the New Living Translation (NLT), the angel said,   “A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place.” (NLT)   Instead of “seventy sets of sevens” other translations use “seventy weeks” or “seventy sevens.” This is equivalent to 490 years. The prophecy goes on to divide the 490 years into three smaller time periods: 49 years, 434 years, and 7 years. The final 7 years is further divided in half.   One commentator said, “These verses provide a sort of clock that gives an idea of when the Messiah would come and some of the events that would accompany His appearance.”   Daniel 9:25 says,   “Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until a ruler—the Anointed One—comes. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defenses, despite the perilous times.” (NLT)   Gabriel said the prophetic clock would start at the time that a command to rebuild Jerusalem. He said that from the date of that command to the time of the Messiah would be 7 sets of seven plus 62 sets of seven. “7 sets of seven” (i.e., 49 years) plus “62 sets of seven” (i.e., 434 years) equals 483 years.   We know from history that the decree to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” was given by King Artaxerxes of Persia c. 445 B.C. (see Neh 2:1-8).   The first unit of 49 years (“7 sets of seven”) covers the time that it took to rebuild Jerusalem (Dan 9:25). This rebuilding is chronicled in the book of Nehemiah.   Using the Jewish custom of a 360-day year, 483 years after 445 B.C. places us at A.D. 30, which would coincide with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-9).   Dan 9:26 specifies that after the completion of the 483 years some things will happen:  
  • “After this period of sixty-two sets of seven, the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing” (NLT). This was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified.
  • “and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple” (NLT). The armies of Rome destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
  Of the “70 sets of seven,” 69 have already been fulfilled in history. This leaves one more “seven” yet to be fulfilled. Most scholars believe that we are now living in a huge gap between the 69th week and the 70th week. The prophetic clock has been paused, as it were.   The final “seven” of Daniel is what we usually call the tribulation period. This period will begin when the Antichrist (who is called “the prince who is to come” in Dan 9:26, ESV) will make a treaty with the Jews. Daniel 9:27 says,   The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven. (NLT)   But in the middle of the seven years the Antichrist will stop the sacrifices and offerings and begin his terrible deeds. Dan 9:27 continues:   But after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him. (NLT)   After the Antichrist breaks the covenant with Israel, a time of “great tribulation” begins. Jesus warned of this event in Mt 24:15-21 (ESV):   15 “ So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place ( let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.   It is Christ Himself who used the phrase "great tribulation" with reference to the last half of the Tribulation.   The apostle Paul also talked about this period. In 2Th 2:3-5 he says,   3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?   Summary:  
  • In the teaching of Jesus Christ, the tribulation has two parts: the beginnig of birth pains and the great tribulation. During the beginning of birth pains there will be many who will claim to be the Christ and they will lead many astray; there will be wars and rumors of wars; there will be famines and earthquakes in varios places, but the end is not yet.
  • In the message of Gabriel to Daniel, the Tribulation is a 7 year period that will begin with the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel. In the middle of this 7 years (i.e., 3½ years), he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings and commit terrible deeds.
  • The tribulation period will end at the second coming of Jesus, when He comes again on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory (Mt 24:30).
    Revelation offers us the most information about the Tribulation. The details this period can be seen in Revelation chs. 6-18. This book presents the events to us in three sets of seven symbols:  
  • 7 Seal-Judgments (chs. 4:1-8:1)
  • 7 Trumpet-Judgments (8:2-11:19)
  • 7 Bowl-Judgments (12:1-18:24)
  Last time we talked about the first four of the seven seal judgments. We referred to these as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. All these more or less parallel with the first four events that Jesus mentioned in his sermon in Mt 24. They all belong to the beginning of birth pains:  
  • First seal - rider on the white horse (false peace)
  • Second seal – rider on the black horse (war)
  • Third seal – rider on the red horse (famine)
  • Fourth seal – rider on the pale horse (death)
  Today we will begin to look at th remaining three seals. All these three are included in the Great Tribulation. In our study today, we are just going to focus our attention on Rev 6:9-17 where we see the 5th and the 6th seals.  

The Fifth Seal: Prayers for Divine Vengeance (6:9-11)

The 5th seal marks the middle of the tribulation. It is the bridge between the beginning of birth pains in the first half of the Tribulation and the Great Tribulation in the second half.   This seal is different from the first 4 seals in that it has no summons from a living being and no horse and rider like the first four.   Some commentators think that the 5th seal represents martyrdom but I reject this view because the seals represent God’s wrath against those who dwell on the earth (3:10), not against the believers. Martyrdom is not regarded in the Bible as judgment from God. In fact it is a privilege granted to believers (Ac 5:41; Phil 1:29; Rev 2:10).  
  • Ac 5:41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
  • Phil 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.
  • Rev 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
  It best to interpret the 5th seal as the prayers of the believers who were martyred during the Tribulation Period. Prayer will play a vital role in God's judgments on the earth. The prayer of these martyrs is for God’s vengeance to come upon His enemies. From a human point of view, the prayers of the saints have a direct influence in God’s pouring of His judgments on briging about the devastating disasters and trouble in the end times. Lk 18:7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? Because of the powerful influence of intercession of these believers who are especially precious in God’s sight, God will answer with the pouring out of His wrath that will be seen in the 6th seal and the 7th seal which incorporates the trumpet and bowl judgments.     Let's look more closely into the three features of the 5th seal:  
  1. The source of the prayer:
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain   When the 5th seal was broken John saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain. These are the souls of the martyrs who were killed during the first half of the Tribulation period, which Jesus calls "the beginning of birth pains." Even during this period there will already be widespread persecution of believers. This persecution will intensify after the Antichrist sets himself as God in the Temple in Jerusalem.   In His sermon regarding the end times in Mt 24, our Lord Jesus said that in the beginning of birth pains, there will be a proliferation of false Christs, wars, famines, and earthquakes (Mt 24:4-8). After these events, Jesus says in the following verse, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake (Mt 24:9).   This sequence of events in the teaching of Jesus is parallel with the sequence of seals mentioned in Rev 6. The fifth seal where the praying of the martyred saints are mentioned is parallel to the the martyrdom that Jesus talks about in His sermon.   The souls that John sees underneath the altar in heaven praying for God's vengeance upon God's enemies are the souls of the believers who were martyred.   John described the martys he saw underneath the altar as "souls" because their bodily resurrection had not yet taken place (20:4). They are the first fruits of those who will be saved during the tribulation.   The text does not define which altar is in view, but most likely this altar was comparable to the altar of incense in the OT (Ex 40:5) because of the association of incense with prayer (5:8; 8:3-4; Ps 141:2; Lk 1:10).   John gives two reasons why the martyrs will be slain: for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They will correctly interpret what they see going around them, calling on people to repent and believe the gospel. Antichrist and his followers will not tolerate their bold preaching and will kill them.  
  1. The content of the prayer:
10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”   Prayer will play a vital role in God's judgements on the earth. This prayer of the martyrs contrasts greatly to that of Stephen the first martyr of the church. In Acts 7:60 Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of his oppressors. The prayer of the souls beneath God's altar is similar to the imprecatory psalms of the OT as Ps 74:10-11,   10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? 11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!   MacArthur: "A prayer for pardon is appropriate in a time of grace. But when judgment comes, prayers for divine judment are fitting. Such prayers are not from a desire for revenge, but a protest agasint all that is sinful and dishonoring to God."   The manner of their petition is extraordinary. They cried out with a loud voice.  This emphasizes the urgent need and denotes strong emotions.   Their prayer is addressed to God whom they call "Sovereign Lord." The word "Lord" here is not the common word for "lord" in the NT. it is the Greek word "despotes," where we get the word "despot." it implies God's divine might, majesty, power, and authority. Two qualities are applied to God. He is "holy and true." He is holy in His separation from evil and true in His faithfulness to His Word. He cannot tolerate iniquity. He must avenge.  
  1. The response to the prayer:
God's immediate response to the prayer of the martyrs is by way of symbolic act and spoken word.   11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.   The symbolic act is the granting to each of the souls a white robe. This may not be a literal robe because these souls do not yet have a physical body. The first resurrection will not happen until Christ returns (Rev 20:4-5). White robes may symbolize the blessedness and the beauty of holiness that God bestows to those who have remained faithful despite persecution. [There are some Bible teachers who say that God is going to give temporary bodies to believers who have died while they await the resurrection to receive their permanent bodies. Of this we can only speculate.]   The spoken word to the martyrs is to rest a little longer. Perhaps it means that that they are to rest in the enjoyment of their benefits in heaven. God explains that there is a need for delay in God's final avenging of the martyrs. Others were yet to give their lives to Christ. The number set in God's predetermined plan had not at this point been reached. The word to the souls under the altar gives them reassurance that God will eventually avenge their blood, but the time for the culmination of that vengeance has not yet arrived. One thing that must still happen is the persecution upon believers that will intensify after the Antichrist sets himself as God.   The Sixth Seal: Cosmic and Terrestrial Disturbances  (6:12-17)   Two features describe the sixth seal:  
  • The Cosmic and Terrestrial disturbances, vv. 12-14
  • The Impact on Humans, vv. 15b-17
  1. The Cosmic and Terrestrial disturbances, vv. 12-14
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. When the sixth seal is broken, there are going to be great cosmic and terrestrial disturbances that will happen. MacArthur says,   Unlike the first five seals, each of which involved humans in one way or another, God acts alone with the sixth seal. By the time this seal is opened, the tribulation’s midpoint has passed and the world is in the “great triublation” (Mt 24:21). By then the final Antichrist has desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem (“the abomination of desolation”), the world worships him, and a massive persecution of Jews and Christians has broken out. … [T]he sixth seal will be so devastating and terrifying that it will be attributable to God alone.   There are commentators who think that these descriptions in the sixth seal should be understood symbolically and not literally. I disagree. I think they are to be understood literally.   Here are the reasons why I think they should be regarded as literal:  
  1. Our Lord Jesus mentions these great violent disorders on earth and in the heavens in His Olivet Discourse.
  • Mt 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
  • Mk 13:24-25 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
  • Lk 21:11-12 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake.
  • Lk 21:25-26 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
  1. The literal fulfilment of these words is necessary to do justice to OT prophecies pertaining to the awesome and horrifying “Day of the Lord.”
  • Joel 2:30-31 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
  • Isa 13:9-13 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. 11 I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,  and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. 12 I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. 13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.
  • Isa 34:1-4 Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention, O peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it. 2 For the Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. 3 Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.
  1. The literal fulfilment of these words is necessary to have such a devastating effect on the heart of sinful mankind.
  [All the ungodly and sinners] hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “ Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?  
  1. The literal fulfilment of these words is necessary to do justice to the truth of the dependence of the the creation upon its Creator.
  • Col 1:17, And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
  • Heb 1:3, He upholds the universe by the word of his power.
  Look at the things that will happen to the heavens and the earth:  
  • First, there will be a great earthquake. There have been many earhtquakes in recorded history and more during the first half of the tribulation (Mt 24:7). Yet the event John saw in this seal is to be far more powerful and devastating than any previoius earthquake. So great will be the earthquake that “every mountain and island was removed from its place.” (6:14b).
  The next disasters after the eathquake pertain to heavenly occurrences.  
  • the sun became black as sackcloth. The literal darkening of the sun will be a blackness comparable to a black sackcloth worn as a visible expression of mourning and despair. The prophet Joel spoke of this in connection with the Day of the Lord. Joel 2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
  • Next, the full moon became like blood. In the website “ Question: “Why does the moon turn red?” Answer: “Usually red color of moon is seen during an eclipse. … When the earth comes between the sun and the moon sun rays fall on earth which causes shadow on the moon. The sun, the moon, the earth are in such a position that sunlight has to pass through the atmosphere of earth to reach moon. … The longest wavelength of red color passes through the atmosphere is causing the red colored shadow on the moon.”
  I am not sure if this could be a valid reason because the sun already became black as sackcloth. Other commentators suggest other reasons for the change of color. Maybe MacArthur is right when he says,   “There will be vast clouds of ash and smoke spewed out by the volcanic activity associated with the worldwide earthquake. That ash and smoke will eclipse the moon, coloring it bloodred as it attempts to pierce the smoke-darkened sky.”  
  • The fourth disaster in this seal according to v.13 is, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.
  MacArthur writes:   The word translated “stars” can refer to actual stars, but it can also describe any heavenly body other than the sun an dthe moon. In this context it does not refer to actual stars since they are far too large to fall to the earth and would incinerate it long before striking it. Also, the stars are still in place later when the fourth trumpet sounds (8:12). This is most likely a reference to asteroid or meteor showers bormabarding the earth.  
  • The fifth disaster makes the sky appear to split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up. This is the human perception of the magnitude of this judgment, but is not the dissolving of heaven which does not come until Rev 20:11; 21:1; and 2Pe 3:10. John likens the sky to an unrolled scroll that splits in the middle and rolls up on either side. “The impression of all these heavenly phenomena is that the universe is coming apart” (Thomas).
  • The final disaster goes back to the earth at this point is and every mountain and island was removed from its place. The moving of the mountains and islands is probably tied to the great earthquake of v. 12 and possibly to volcanic disturbances through which mountains and islands rise and disappear. This aspect of the upheaval has no precedent in OT prophecy or in apocalyptic writings. John’s language may be hyperbolical here. The complete removal of every mountain would leave no hiding places for men to sek (6:16). Many will be moved and even disappear, but complete abolition of all mountains will come at the seventh bowl judgment (Rev 16:20). At that point, no montains will be found.
  1. The Impact on Humans, vv. 15b-17
  The disasters associated with the sixth seal will affect all unbelievers. The seven categories represent all clasees of society.   From MacAathur:  
  • the kings of the earth – refers to the heads of state throughout the world.
  • and the great ones – are the high ranking officials in government
  • and the generals – the military leaders
  • and the rich – those who control commerce and business
  • and the powerful – may well be the influential
Together, all of the above comrise the elite elements of human society. These people ignored the warnings of God’s impending judgment and persecuted believers.
  • and everyone, slave and free, - these encompass all other individuals
  The reaction of the unbelieiving world to the terrors unleashed by the sixth seal will not be repentance, but panic. They will finally acknowledge that the disasters they have experienced are God’s judgment. Yet they will continue to follow the Antichrist. As a result, God will abandon them (2Th 2:11-12). Those who repeatedly harden their hearts will have their hearts abandoned by God.   The panic-striken sinners will react irrationally, foolishly attempting to hide themselves “in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,” the very places that are being shaken. They are no doubt seeking refuge from the swarms of meteors and asteroids bombarding the earth. But in light of the massive earthquake and its continuing aftershocks, the widespread volcanic eruptions, and the other distubances to the earth’s crust, such hiding places will offer no safety.   The terrifying events prompt a worldwide prayer meeting, but the prayers are to the Mother Nature, not to God. They will say to the mountains and the the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? People will be so terrified that they would rather die than face the wrath of a holy God.   They will have, by then, come to a clear understanding that God has been behind all the judgments. More specifically, they fear “the wrath of the Lamb.” The Lamb, Jesus Christ (5:6-8), is the agent of direct judgment.   “The great day of their wrath has come.” This means that OT predictions of the coming of the frightening day of the Lord has arrived. But the worst is yet to come in the seventh seal, which includes the trumpet (8:1-9:21) and bowl (16:1-21) judgments.   The scene closes with the asking of the rhetorical question, “Who can stand?” The answer is “No one.”   This picture, horrifying and frightening as it is, is not altogether hopeless. The church will be delivered from that time (Rev 3:10 - Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.). Great multitutdes of people will be saved in the midst of the terrors of divine judgment, both Gentiles (7:9) and Jews (Ro 11:26). But for the rest, the words of Hebrews will apply: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).