The purpose of this study is to clarify the timing of certain end time events. It is my sincere belief that we are at the "time of the end", as so many OT scriptures put it, or as some modern pundits say, the "beginning of the end".
There are two events spoken of in the Word about which there is much confusion and disagreement in today's believers. They are the "rapture", and the tribulation period. The two are inextricably linked together, with some saying that the rapture occurs before the tribulation, some say in the middle, and some say at the end. I won't even go into those who say there is no rapture, or tribulation (plenty of those, too.)
First clarification is about the tribulation. What is it, exactly?
The tribulation period is spoken of many times in scripture. In the OT, it is referred to as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7), "time of trouble" (Dan. 12:1), "day of wrath...trouble....distress....wasteness...desolation...darkness....gloominess...clouds....thick darkness" (Zeph. 1:15), and "that great and terrible day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). These are just a few of the many references to a point in time when God displays His wrath against the inhabitants of this earth that have withstood Him for so long.
In the NT, Jesus speaks of this time, and further breaks it down to a time of "great" tribulation, and gives a hallmark event to signify the beginning of this "great" tribulation (Matthew 24:15-21).
Paul refers to this time as "the Day of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 2:2) and John details the entire period in Revelation, chaps. 5 through 16.
It is more than apparent from all of the scriptures that this time period, described in both Daniel and Revelation as lasting 7 years, is one of incalculable misery and grief for the human race. It is the outpouring of the Wrath of God upon sinful mankind, just as He vented His anger in the great flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The tribulation period consists of a series of 21 judgments uttered by God, and delivered successively through the breaking of 7 Seals, the sounding of 7 Trumpets and the pouring out of 7 Vials, or Bowls. Each judgment is more severe than the one preceeding it, and the end result is the death of more than 60% of the population of earth. As Jesus likened this period to birth (Matthew 24:8), we can also expect that as the judgments are uttered, each one will come closer to the one preceeding, and with more intensity. And just as birth ends with deliverance, the culmination of the tribulation period will be the deliverance of this earth to righteousness under the leadership of Jesus.
So, the tribulation period is the outpouring of the Wrath of God upon this earth, and contains 21 separate and distinct judgments. Each judgment occurs, and is followed by the next. There is nothing in scripture to indicate that Trumpet judgment 4 will occur before Seal judgment 5, and so on. It is a very orderly progression.
There are many who state that we are already in the tribulation period, and are more than halfway through the breaking of the seals, or at least the first 3 or 4, citing as "proof" the wars, pestilence and famine and economic instability worldwide.
Hogwash. We CANNOT be halfway through the seals, or otherwise, since the FIRST seal judgment has NOT yet occurred.
Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, made very clear to them that the Day of the Lord (the tribulation period) would NOT happen until two specific events occurred. (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
First is the "great falling away", or apostasy. This is a reference not to just the attitude of the world in turning away from God, but to the attitude of the Church in turning their back upon Him and His Word. Have we reached that point? Is the attitude of the Church today at a greater point of rejection of God and His Word than at any time in the past?
I would submit that it is, indeed. For more details, read this study, but I would briefly say that when most of the denominations of Christianity are actively engaged in condoning and supporting what God has decreed as sin and abomination, we are there!
So, that's the first event that MUST occur before the Day of the Lord can come. What's next?
As pointed out in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the second event is the revealing of "the wicked one", or "man of sin", the "son of perdition" that will presume to stand in the place of God, and declare himself to be God. This person is referred to by Daniel (9 & 11) as a vile person, the abomination that makes desolate. Jesus refers to him the same way, citing Daniel, and John refers to him as "the beast". We generally call this person the anti-christ, because he stands for everything that is opposed to God and His Son Jesus.
How is he going to be revealed? The singular clue we have from scripture is found in Daniel 9, where it speaks to this person effecting a "covenant" of peace with Israel. According to the Word, this covenant, or treaty, will guarantee the safety and peace of Israel for a period of 7 years. At the mid-point of this treaty, he turns on Israel, invades Jerusalem, and sets himself up (or a likeness) in the restored temple, declaring himself to be God.
At this point in time, no one person who has the power to do so has been able to effect a peace treaty that guarantees the safety of Israel, although many have been trying. That is not to say that in the very near future, some single person who wields sufficient military and economic power to do so won't suddenly appear. There are many candidates, among them the presidents of Russia and the U.S., and the prime ministers of the European Union and Great Britain.
Now, a second point of clarification to "cement" the second of the events, the revelation of this anti-christ.
In Revelation 6:2, the first of the seals is broken, and the first horseman of the apocalypse comes forth. As described, he sits upon a white horse, has a bow (or implement of war) in his hand, and a "crown" (sign of leadership) is given to him. This matches in detail the recitation given in Daniel about the rise to power of the abomination, or dark prince. The riding of the white horse makes him appear to be a "savior", one who comes in righteousness, but the wielding of the sword gives him a warlike nature. He then rides forth to "conguer, and conquering", which speaks to a military might that will cause others (nations and people) to not only fear him, but to acquiese to him. This certainly gives him the apparent ability to effect and "guarantee" peace with whosoever he chooses to make it with, and keeps any enemies at bay.
This breaking of the first seal, and the release of the first horseman goes hand in glove with the words spoken by Paul in Thessalonians in saying that BEFORE the great and terrible day of the Lord the anti-christ will be revealed. They are the same event.
While the horsemen that follow (war, economic woe, pestilence, death and hell) are things that we currently have in this world, the fact that they follow the anti-christ and his revelation, and the fact that they are a part of the outpouring of the wrath of God indicate that they are much larger and more horrific in scope than what we are now seeing. As a matter of fact, it is only at the point that all of these signs are coupled with heavenly signs (seals 5 and 6) that the people of the earth recognize that what is happening is indeed initiated by God, and is the outpouring of His wrath (Rev. 6:17).
So, what do we have so far? Are we in the tribulation? NO...not yet. It is on the horizon, though. Do we know who the anti-christ is? No, he has not been revealed in his true nature. Do we have a lot of candidates? Yes. But once again, the singular event that will reveal him will be the making of a peace treaty with Israel, and not just any peace treaty. It MUST be one that (a) guarantees their peace and safety for (b) seven years.
Next, let's clarify the rapture. Please read this study for more details on the rapture. At this point, I'll just say....there is going to be a rapture, and if you don't believe it, that's ok. As God says, "what if some don't believe...I am faithful to myself". There is more than abundant evidence in scripture to state unequivocally that not only is there a rapture, but that rapture is going to take place BEFORE or right at the beginning of the tribulation period. Remember, the tribulation is the outpouring ot the WRATH of God, and His Word promises that we are NOT APPOINTED UNTO WRATH!
Another misconception relating to the rapture concerns who is going to be raptured. Let's look once again at Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 4.
1Th 4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 1Th 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Paul is speaking TO believers ABOUT believers, and no one else. There is a lot of confusion as to who a believer is. Some say it's those who make Jesus LORD of their lives, and prove it by the way they live. Some say it's those who obey all the commandments. Others say it's those who have been baptized, and take communion every Sunday, and so on, and so on. Some say that "carnal" or wordly Christians are going to be left to undergo a few years or so of chastisement to get 'em cleaned up.
Those who start putting all of these rules and caveats on who is a believer are falling into the same trap that kept the Jews from recognizing Jesus as Messiah. Christianity, and being a believer is NOT about rules, regulations, laws, caveats, codicils and recitations. It is about (1)confessing Jesus as LORD (with the mouth, out loud), and (2) believing in your heart that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Those are the ONLY conditions for being a believer, and whosoever believes IS SAVED. That means that there is no such thing as a "second class" Christian. No believer is going to be "left behind" to undergo 1, 2 or 3 years of "cleaning up".
If you believe, you're going. If you don't believe, you're staying. Period.
Some final points. Over the past several years, a large number of big names have begun prognosticating about the return of Jesus, and the beginning of the tribulation period. Most of them are pointing to September/October of 2015. While most of them do NOT say specifically that Jesus is coming back in that time frame, they all DO state that "something" earthshattering is going to happen. Everything from economic disaster, to the outbreak of WW3. Most of them link whatevert is going to happen to the Blood Moon Tetrad and/or the end of the Shmita (7 year cycle), and the beginning of the "Super Schmita", or Jubilee year, all of which occur in September, 2015.
I don't know about all that. I've studied all the phenomena, and the Feast Days, and so on, and there is a certain amount of rationality in what they say. I do believe that something big is about to happen. Why? Because the Lord has placed in me a sense of urgency to warn people that the time is short. Because the Lord has opened my eyes and connected the dots for all the things that are happening worldwide, and how they are coming closer together in their occurrances. From major earthquakes, to volcanic activity, tsunamis, torrential rains and drought, to the rise of "super bugs", the return of diseases thought to have been eradicated and terrifying new ones....and most especially, the horrible increase of inhumanity within humanity, from the beheadings and executions being carried out by ISIS, to the parents torturing and maiming their own children, to children executing their own parents, and strangers killing strangers for no valid reason.
It's time for us to be ready, for "in the blink of an eye, we shall all be changed."