The End: The Great Tribulation

Before we begin this morning I’d like to talk with anyone who might be here at Journey for the very first time – and especially anyone who might be in church for the first time ever.  I almost want to apologize to you for what we are about to talk about.  I hope you don’t walk out of here saying – these christians are lunatics!

And you might – because this morning we are talking about the “end times” – and today will get a little nutty because – see in the bible there is this book called the book of Revelation and it talks about the apocalypse.  And it’s filled with really bizarre imagery that is difficult to understand – and honestly gang, it’s been difficult to understand for two thousand years.  It’s left most people scratching their heads for two thousand years.

So why are we bothering to try to understand it?  Well, because it talks about the return of Jesus – The Bible very clearly declares that Jesus will come back to earth a second time.  But unlike the first time, when he appeared as a baby, born to a virgin in a barn…  the next time Jesus returns he will split the sky.  There will be no mistaking who he is or why he has come – he came the first time as our savior, he will come back the second time as King.

And that’s a good thing – because the next time he comes back he will come back to judge and finally do away with evil.  And we’d like that, wouldn’t we?  Doesn’t it feel like there is no end to evil in this world?  Aren’t we tired of reading about evil people doing evil things in our world?  We yearn inside for it to be made right.

And when Jesus returns he will judge evil and fix this broken and messed up world once and for all.  And we who follow Him look forward to this with great anticipation.

Why are we studying this now?  Frankly, because there is and has always been, speculation that perhaps we are in last days right now.  It seems like every couple of months we read something about the end of the world, and I want to do my best to give you a framework through which you might be able to understand – as generally as possible – the events that Revelation describes.

Anytime someone teaches about the end times, we must speak with a great deal of humility.  Because Revelation is extremely confusing.  And so I’m going to do another flyover today – and not get into the weeds.  I’m trying to layout the general outline of events.

So let’s jump in.  Last week I explained that Revelation is the story of a scroll with seven seals.  In Rev 5 the Apostle John is taken up into a vision of heaven where he sees this scroll – that has seven seals – they used wax to seal the document – I used duct tape.  We learned that these seven seals act as a countdown – like a New Years Eve countdown – each time a seal is unsealed, we get closer to the end.  When the seventh seal is cracked open – then Jesus comes back. 

What does it say on the inside of the document?  We never find out.  All we know is that the opening of the scroll begins a new ad glorious chapter in the story of God and mankind.  Where God restores all things and we can walk with him and see him face to face.

There is life after – life after death.  And Jim will be talking about that next week, as we wrap up the series.

Revelation doesn’t tell us what’s written inside the scroll, rather, the importance of the scroll is found in these seven seals.

What is clear is that when the seventh seal is cracked open, the party is over.  Jesus returns to judge evil and fix our broken world. We read about the return of Jesus in Revelation 19.  Revelation 19 is the end.  And the beginning.  It is the return of Jesus.

We learned last week that I believe that the first five seals have already been opened.  We read in Revelations 6 that these seals stand for humanity’s desire for conquest.

How much damage has been done in the world because of human’s desire to conquer.  Even on the personal level – we want to conquer our spouse, our children, our boss.  At the national level how many lives are lost because of a desire to conquer – nation over nation.  Mali is seeing the effects of this first seal – the desire to conquer.

And with it, come the next three: war, famine, and disease.  Conquest, War, Famine, Disease has been doing untold harm to the earth for two thousand years.  There appears to be an escalation of these things as we near these last two seals, but in my opinion these have already been opened.

The fifth seal has also been popped open – in my opinion – and that is the death of martyrs of the faith.  And for two thousand years, and unfortunately, probably this very day somewhere in the world, someone will die because they have trusted Jesus to wisely govern their lives.

And that might sound like an oxymoron – they trusted Jesus to govern their lives and it promptly got them killed – but the truth is that for two thousand years people have decided that He is worth it!

The day will come, God assures these martyrs, when He will come back and validate their decision.  They will be vindicated for making the right choice.

So the question we are going to try to answer today is – what happens when the sixth seal is opened????  I said I do not believe this has been opened yet.  So what should we expect to see when it is opened?  We’ll spend the rest of our time this morning talking about this sixth seal.

The opening of this seal will begin a season that Jesus described in Matthew 24:21 Jesus says there will be a time of great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world, and never to be equaled again.

This sixth seal is the inauguration of what some have come to call, The Great Tribulation.

So what is this all about?  Why would Jesus include such a time as this in the timeline of his return?

To help us understand the purpose of the tribulation, we must first go back in time – back to the beginning of the bible – the second book – called Exodus.  And Exodus begins with the story of how God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt.  And what did God use to bring freedom to the Jews?  The Ten Plagues.

If you are familiar with the story – God sends Moses to Pharaoh demanding freedom for the Jews.  Pharaoh scoffs at Moses and refuses to belief.  So God begins to send plagues on Egypt – with one purpose in mind – he wants Pharaoh to change his mind.   By the way, the biblical word for that is called Repentance.  To Repent it to change your mind about reality itself.  He wants Pharaoh to repent – to change his mind and realize that there is ONE God and that He has all the power and uses it for the sake of those who call him their God.

Let me recap briefly the ten plagues – because the events surrounding sixth seal is very similar – they are unmistakable signs that there is a God, and they are announcements and invitations to change your mind about Him – to repent.

So quickly, the ten plagues.

  1. The Water was made to be undrinkable. God turned the lifeblood of Egypt – the Nile – into blood and it became undrinkable.  The Egyptians had to dig new wells to ensure their health.  Clearly, this should have been enough to convince Pharaoh!  But no – the hardness of his heart was such that he was able to find a way to explain it away as some kind of magic trick.
  2. Frogs everywhere! Did you know that one of the Egyptian gods had a frog’s head?  There’s a picture of it – her name was Heqet – God said, oh, you like frogs?  How you like them frogs!
  3. Lice – Gross. More Lice that a Super 8 motel.
  4. Flies – * Now what’s interesting about this plague is that it’s the first time that God begins to make a distinction between His people and the Egyptians.  You egyptians will experience these things – not the Israelites.  From here on out, God makes a distinction between people who have placed their faith in Him, and those who haven’t.  And we will see this in Revelation as well.
  5. Egyptian Livestock is diseased with a plague that kills them off.
  6. Boils – This is the first plague where people are hurting. They are experiencing, not just annoyance, but actual physical pain for their refusal to change their thinking about God (repent) and let the Israelites go.
  7. Hail and Lightning. ** This is the first time people die.  Even though they were warned that it was coming, some people scoffed and died as a result.
  8. Locusts devour what remains of their crops.
  9. Darkness for three days. This is not an eclipse – this is unmistakable – No one could see or leave their house for three days.  This also was a shot at the most powerful Egyptian God – Ra – the Sun God.

All of these plagues were aimed at the Egyptian pantheon of Gods.  They had a god of the Nile – God makes the nile useless.  The God of the sun?  Powerless – there is One God and he holds all the power and if He is for you, what can stand against you?  And God was trying to get Pharaoh to come to terms with this, but Pharaoh steadfastly refuses.  And thus, the final plague and most severe plague.

  1. The death of first born sons. Why the first born?  It would mean many would die, but not the majority.  And this seems to be a terrible affliction by God, but let’s not forget it is the final straw, in essence.  The final effort to get Pharaoh to turn to God.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, many of these plagues will make a re-appearance in the book of Revelation.  All of the underlined ones show up in some form or another when the sixth seal is opened.

That’s why it will be a time of great distress, that looks a lot like the time of the plagues.  They are quite similar looking – except, it will not be one nation, it will be aimed at the entire earth.

The goal however – is the same.  The goal is to get people all over the world, to repent – to change their mind about God and to turn to him through faith in Jesus.  This is what the sixth seal is all about.

It is a world wide last ditch evangelistic effort to convince people to change their mind about the existence and nature of God, and to turn to Him through faith in Jesus.

So let’s get back to our sixth seal – what will happen when the sixth seal is broken open?  We will discover that it opens up a sub menu – Ever click on a button on your computer to discover there’s a submenu?  Usually a triangle shape to alert you that there’s another menu underneath?  Well, the sixth seal contains a sub menu of seven trumpets.

Why are they called trumpets?   Think of the old times when someone would blow a trumpet and then say, I have an announcement from the king!  These trumpets are announcing that the end is near.  Repent!  Change the way you think about God – it’s not too late to turn to him through faith in Jesus!

These trumpet, like the plagues – are God’s effort to get mankind to turn to Him.  We read about them in Revelation 8,9.  What are they?

  1. (Rev 8:7) Hail and Lightning storms. Wait, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Wasn’t this one of the plagues in Exodus?  Exactly.  Except here, the bible describes massive damage to 1/3 of the earth.  Not the majority, but much of the earth is damaged.
  2. A catastrophe at sea destroys 1/3 of the seas. (8:8)

The first trumpet affected the land.  The second affects the sea.   Now it’s tempting to think of environmental reasons – maybe a volcano goes off – but the idea here is clear – these things are not environmental disasters – they are clear judgments from God.  A large portion, though not the majority, of the earth has been damaged in an effort to get people’s attention.

How long between these trumpets?  Days?  Weeks?  Years?  It doesn’t say.  The bible seems to indicate that the entire time of the Great tribulation is between 3.5 years or seven years, so it would seem that there is some time between events.

  1. Drinking Water becomes undrinkable. (8:10)

Remember the Egyptians had their drinking water affected?  Well, here is where we see our first human casualties.  People who are careless will drink it anyway and die as a result.

  1. Sun Darkened (8:12) Just like the Egyptians experienced. Of all the things we take for granted every day – Sunlight probably tops the chart.  Interestingly, Jesus mentions sunlight once as a sign of God’s mercy and kindness and patience.  Jesus says that God causes the sun to shine on evil and good alike.  Well, this trumpet will highlight the reality that sun has been a gift from God.

Now I want us to pay careful attention to what happens next, because it highlights for us the purpose of these trumpets.  God is putting the world through this in a last ditch effort to warn them that the end is near – but it’s not too late to turn to Him through faith in Jesus.

He is trying to get the attention of an unbelieving world and is going to use extraordinary means to get the world out.

Check out 8:13  Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.”

I can’t help but see God’s grace in this action right here.  The world is going to see stuff they’ve never seen before.  And one of those things is a talking eagle.  Or some kind of bird that is making an announcement that the whole world will hear.  Whatever it is – it will be unmistakably outside of our ability to rationalize it away.

In fact, in Chapter 14, it says that an angel himself will fly around announcing to the world to place their faith in Jesus.

God takes a moment here to warn the earth that much worse is on its way.  And He is also announcing that from this point onward, there will be a distinction between those who are ‘of the world’ as opposed to those who belong to God.  Biblical language is clear – you are either “of the world” or you are a child of God.

There’s a change in season coming.  The timer is ticking down.  The season of grace is giving way to a terrifying season of judgment.

  1. A Plague of locusts – who come not to harm the vegetation, but to cause physical pain to people. Similar to the boils that the Egyptians suffered, people will not be able to escape the pain.  Now – remember how God in Egypt made a distinction between his people and the hardhearted Egyptians?  Well, here in this fifth trumpet, God makes a similar distinction.  The children of God will be unaffected.

One might think that this would be enough.  But no.  And so –

  1. The sixth trumpet is sounded, and this time large amounts of people will die. Similar to the last plague in Egypt, many, but not the majority, of unrepentant people will die.

Now one might think that all of this would eventually get people to see that God means business about the impending judgment of evil – that these plagues would convince people to turn to God.  But Rev 9: 20 But the people… still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God….

Like Pharaoh – a hard hearted person will be able to dismiss God – they will find a way to explain it away.   We shouldn’t ever underestimate the ability of a stiff necked person to stiff arm God.

  1. The seventh trumpet is sounded at the breaking of the seventh seal. They are the same event. There is, however, another sub menu between the sixth trumpet and the seventh.  And we will not get into it today other than to say that

The first six trumpets were meant to bring people to repentance.  But after the sixth, and before the seventh – there comes another sub-menu – and John labels them bowls.  Seven bowls of God’s wrath – or judgment.

And, in my opinion, they appear to all occur in one day and all of them are meant to be punitive.  Punishment for hardness of heart.  They are the sentence pronounced on all who decide to care only for themselves.

God is a judge.  And for those who place their faith in Jesus, Jesus willingly took our sentence when he hung on the cross.  So that all who believe in him have no fear of judgment.

But for those who refuse, then their sin is all theirs, and they will receive the wages they have earned for their sin.  Because God is just and there is a penalty for rebellion that will be paid one way or another.  It will lay with Jesus, where it will never return to us – or it will lay on our shoulders, where it will never leave us.

Now my guess is that for every point I made there were ten questions.  Let me answer a few of them.

  1. What is the rapture and when will it happen? The rapture is the belief that God will take his people up to heaven at some point either before this tribulation period, or at some point before it.  And there are tons of theories.

I will simply say that the doctrine of the rapture is a peculiarly American evangelical thing.  No one taught about the rapture before maybe 150 years ago.  If you are curious about it – I will put another sermon from a few years ago on line next to this one, and you can download it and read it.

In my opinion, the church will be part of these last days.  We are, after all, the salt and light of the world.  The Israelites experienced some of the plagues.  And they were protected from other parts of it.  Why would God take us out of the world if his hope is to lead people to himself.  So I think we will most likely be taken just before the bowls of wrath, and then we will return with Jesus immediately after.

  1. What is the Anti-christ? According to Revelation 13 and in 2 Thessalonians 2. a godless figure, seemingly a world ruler, who preaches peace but makes war against the followers of Jesus.

As Pharaoh had his own magicians try to emulate God, the Anti-christ will have powers that seem to match God’s powers.  All of these events are bringing to clarity which side of the line of faith people belong.  All of these events occur during this Great Tribulation.

So I’ll wrap up this little jaunt into end times theology with the simple words, yet again, it’s been the mantra and big idea of every sermon we’ve done these past three weeks –  and that is – We have nothing to fear.  If we have placed out faith in Jesus, then He is our Good Shepherd.  We lack nothing.  We fear nothing.  Because Jesus holds all the power – and if Jesus is for us, who or what can stand against us?

Nothing!  Nothing!

As we turn our attention to communion, we remember the extent that God would go to to rescue us.  To tend to our every need.  If He did not withhold his own Son from us, will that God not give us everything we need in time?

No fear!  You might be going through your own tribulation right now and you are wondering where God might be?  God is with you.  He holds all the power and he is on your side, and by your side.  And he will walk with you through whatever valley, whatever time of distress you are experiencing.

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