Surviving the Great Tribulation

Scripture: Matthew 24:3-9, 1 Peter 1:6-7, James 1:2-3
Date: 08/11/2018 
Jesus said there will be a time of great trouble before He comes again. Do not worry about getting through it. He promised to be with us.

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Doug Batchelor: Iguanas, are they big lizards or small dinosaurs? Well, it depends on how you look at it. These magnificent creatures are found mostly in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. Iguanas come in a broad spectrum of colors: blue, brown, green, and they can even camouflage their skin, allowing them to hide in the jungle. Although they look fierce, iguanas are vegetarians, and it's incredible of how resilient they are. If attacked, to ensure a quick escape, an iguana can detach its tail and later grow a new one. If washed out to sea in a storm, they can inflate themselves and swim incredible distances. They can hold their breath up to 28 minutes, putting even a crocodile to shame. And iguanas love to climb buildings and trees, but on the rare occasion when they do slip, it is incredible how hearty they are, surviving the falls from heights of 40 to 50 feet without injury.

While God made iguanas to be some of the toughest creatures in his natural kingdom, he can also teach Christians to be resilient when faced with fiery trials. Sometimes, life is tough, but through God's grace, we can learn to persevere in hard times and endure faithful to the end. So join me now as we talk about what the Bible has to say about the great tribulation.

Have you ever gone through a tribulation? Have you ever gone through a great tribulation? I remember reading once about a pilot heard about one of these terrible forest fires and--I'm sorry. There was as newspaper writer and the head of the newspaper said, "You need to go get some photographs of this fire." Well, the photographer went to try to get some photographs, and the fire lines were all guarded; he couldn't get close enough. So he told the paper and they said, "Look, well call this airport, we'll secure a plane and pilot. He can take you up, and from the air," that's before they had those drones, "you could get some good shots of the fire."

And so, they made the arrangements; he raced to the small airport. Sure enough the plane was already there waiting with the engine running. He jumped up, he opened up the passenger side, he threw his camera bag in the back. He jumped in. He said, "Let's go, let's go." The pilot taxied, took off, and he said look, "I want you to go make some turns over by the fire." And so the pilot went by the fire. He said, "No, no." He said, "You got to get down close." And so he said, "All right," and he looked a little nervous. The pilot went down and he said, "You got to get closer. I want you to skim the treetops. Stay away from the fire, but I want to get some great shots." And he's clicking away, and the pilot's saying, "Why are you taking so many pictures? He said, "Well, I'm a photographer. That's what I'm supposed to do." The pilot said, "Well, you mean you're not my flight instructor?" He had jumped in the plane of a student pilot waiting for his instructor to come out.

Now, that causes a tribulation. And how do you get out of tribulation? How do you survive tribulation? Now, you know when I talk about the great tribulation, I meet Christians, and while different Christians from different denominations have different views on the tribulation, virtually all Bible reading Christians believe there is some great tribulation coming that is clearly foretold in the future. And people look upon it with different degrees of concern or apprehension. I'm not sharing this message with you to trouble anybody. I don't lose any sleep at all worried about the tribulation or the great tribulation. But why don't we begin by reading what Jesus said, some of the most clear statements on the subject.

Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 24. Matthew 24, I'll probably start with verse 3. Jesus is--the disciples wanted to show him the buildings of the temple, and afterward you shocked them with a statement in verse 2, "Do you not see all these things, 'I say to you that not one stone will be upon another that will not be thrown down.'" That was flabbergasting to the apostles. So they came to Jesus privately and listen carefully, verse 3, "They ask him really two and half or three questions. He commingles all of his answers together. They said, "Tell us," and they came to him and privately on the Mount of Olives, "when will these things be?" Namely the destruction of the temple. "What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name saying I am Christ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of war. See that you are not troubled, for these things must come to pass. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, and pestilence, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.'"

So he said the final sorrows are labor pains. Before the great deliverance at the end, it's going to be precipitated by some major plagues, earthquakes, wars. "Then they will be deliver you up to tribulation," there's that word again, "to kill you, and you'll be hated by all nations for my name's sake, and many will be offended, and betray one another, and many false prophets arise and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold," and we see that even in our country.

How many of you remember growing up in a society where you never even thought about locking at front door? When I was a kid, and we lived in what's now Universal Studios, Tujunga, California. I mean neighbors had goats and things. You'd never believe it if you went down there now. Grandparents never locked the door when they left the house. So it's hard to imagine. Now everybody here got security cameras on your door in case anybody rings the bell. "Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let them understand), then let those who be in Judea flee into the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down and take anything out of his house, and let him who is in the field not go back and get his clothes."

He's talking about a time of urgency. Something was going to happen where there was going to be very little warning, and they were going to have to run for their lives. And then he says, "Pray that your flight," fleeing for your life, "pray that your flight be not in the winter or on the Sabbath," which is I think a good argument to remember. He expected us to still acknowledge the Sabbath now at the end of time. "For they'll be great tribulation," there's that phrase. Not just tribulation, but what kind of tribulation? Great tribulation. "Such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be."

Now, that takes your breath away right there. That could frighten a person. I mean there's been so many just horrific things, and Jesus says, "Oh, that's nothing." You can't imagine it." Most of the time, you worry about things that when they actually happen, they're not so bad. And most of the pains and the worrying in anticipation, when it finally happens, you think it wasn't anything. But Jesus said, "You probably cannot over imagine how bad it's going to be."

This great--when Jesus calls it a great tribulation, such as not has been, think about all that's happened. Think of black death in history, bubonic plague such as has not been nor ever will be. "And unless those days be shortened, no flesh would be saved." He says, "It's so severe that there'd be no flesh." That's not believers or unbelievers. He's not even seen human or animal. Said no life would survive. "But for the elect's sake, those days will be shortened." Okay, so I think we all agree that there's going to be a great tribulation. Can you say amen? Want to make sure we got that point nailed down.

Now what does the word tribulation mean? What is a tribulation? Tribulation, in Greek anyway, it's about 47 times in the Bible, it comes from the word "thlipsis" or "thilibo." It means to crush, to press together, to squash, the hem in, to compress, to squeeze, to afflict. It's originally expressed, it's talking about some sheer physical pressure on man. Now, thlipsis is a strong term. It doesn't refer to a minor inconvenience. It's talking about real hardship. Now, Jesus said there's going to be a time of real hardship.

Now, now this is an important point I want you to grasp, because I'm going to start unpacking it. I want to have you catch this. There are really for different kinds of tribulation that are encompassed in Matthew 24 in these verses. How many? Four. And I'll itemize them for you very quickly. There's a tribulation for Israel, a tribulation of the church, a global final tribulation, and then he's also talking about individual or personal tribulation. For instance, when Jesus said, "There won't be one stone left upon another in the temple, he was talking about the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and that is the first tribulation. Let's talk about that.

Look in Matthew 23, verse 35. I'm going back one chapter. When he's pronouncing the woes on the scribes, and the Pharisees, and hypocrites, and those who had rejected the prophets. He says in very striking denunciation, "That on you may come all of the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the righteous blood--from the blood of righteous Abel." Now, he wasn't even a Jew. He's just saying there's going to be pent-up judgment that's going to be poured on this generation. "From the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah."

Now, that Zechariah is not totally Zechariah, the son of Berechiah. That's another name for Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada. "Who you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you that all these things will come on this generation." Now, Jesus in Matthew 24 also talks about, "This generation will not pass away till all of these things be fulfilled." What is a Bible generation? It's 40 years. And how do we know that? When the generation that came out of Egypt did not have faith, he said that generation would die in the wilderness. They wandered 40 years. And you look, David reigned for a generation. He reigned 40 years. Solomon reigned 40 years. King Saul, first king; 40 years. Moses' life is divided in three generations: 40 years in Egypt; 40 years in the wilderness; 40 years leading people from Egypt to the borders of the Promised Land. So 40 was a pretty well-established number for a biblical generation.

Now, Jesus made this prophecy interestingly enough in 30 A.D. What would be 40 years later? 70 A.D. How many of you know that in 70 A.D., the Romans destroyed the temple? So this first tribulation, he describes a terrible ordeal that the new Jewish nation went through when they rebelled against the Romans. And you can read about this and Flavius Josephus' "History of the Jews." He talks about the Roman wars. It was awful. When Titus, our first, that's being in Titus, they besiege Jerusalem, and there was terrible starvation in the city, and finally the city was burned, and the temple was destroyed. And usually you'd take some prisoners of war, but the soldiers were so angry that they had been put out for three years now by trying to squelch this Jewish rebellion, that they went in and indiscriminately men, women and children, they just butchered them, and blood ran through the streets. And those who survived, the majority were crucified. Josephus says, "You couldn't find a tree around Jerusalem. It had been cut down and made into crosses." And a few that survived that were then taken and sent to work in the mines in northern Africa for the Romans, and it was just a terrible tribulation. We know that they're talking about this time.

You can read for instance in Luke 23:29, speaking of the same time. He says, "For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren wombs that never bore, and the breasts which never nursed.'" Christ said these words on his way to the cross talking to the Jewish women that were weeping. He said, "Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves because a terrible judgment is coming to the nation. Luke 21, verse 20, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies."

Now, did you notice a difference? The abomination of desolation in Matthew 24, he says, "that when you see the up abomination of desolation stand in the holy place, let those that be in Judea, flee in the mountains." Luke is more specific. He says, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, let those that be in Judea flee into the mountains." "Let those who are in Judea flee the mountains. Let those who are in the midst of her, depart. Let those who are in the country not enter her. These are the days of vengeance. Woe to those who are pregnant, those who are nursing babies in those days," for obvious reasons, "for they'll be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people."

So again, now that's talking about the tribulation that came on Israel, and in Jerusalem, in particular, during that time. "They'll fall by the edge of the sword. They will be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled." So are we in agreement that at least part of the tribulation that is foretold is speaking to the Jewish nation and what happened with the fall of Jerusalem? It came right on time for 40 years later. But it's broader and more comprehensive than that. There's also a tribulation that comes historically to the church.

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It's the church age of tribulation. You can read for instance in Matthew 24, verse 9, "They'll deliver you up to tribulation and kill you. You will be hated of all nations." So this is something that is universal. If you read in Revelation chapter 11, it talks about a specific time of tribulation when it talks about the two witnesses. Represents the Word of God. It says, "Leave," and this is Revelation 11, verse 2, "But leave the out the court, which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the gentiles. And they were tread down the holy city 42 months." We just read that from Luke.

Now, what is it? Forty-two months. A Jewish month has 30 days. 42 months is 1260 days. "And I'll give power to make two witnesses, and they will prophesy in sackcloth, 1260 days ." Sackcloth was like a potato bag, and if you prophesied it through that, it's muffled. If you put a light under a potato bag, some light comes through, but it's obscured. It's diminished. And it's basically saying that the church during this time period would still do a work, but it's going to be oppressed, it's going to be obscured. It's going to be muffled, and stifled and strangled. And it says, "These two witnesses."

The two witnesses some say are Moses and Elijah. Symbolically or metaphorically that's true. They represent Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets. Another term for the Word of God, which is dual in nature; it's new in Old Testament. It's a sword with two edges. Ten Commandments have two stones, right? And so the law and the prophets, commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus. The Word of God was going to be oppressed and persecuted during a vast age. A day in prophecy is how long? A year. "I have appointed thee a day for a year," God said to Ezekiel. So it says, they'd be at church age period of great persecution for 1260 not days, years, where the church flees into the wilderness but they still do a work. So this was a time of great tribulation. So you've got persecution that happens, tribulation for Jerusalem and Israel, tribulation for spiritual Israel or the church.

Now, I want to go to the third category of tribulation, and that's the one that's ahead of us now. So far, we we've looking at great tribulation behind us. Now, we're looking at the great tribulation ahead of us. Cheer up, it's going to get worst. But I'm not worried about it; I'll tell you why in a minute. Jesus says in Matthew 24:13, "Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold, but he that endures to the end, there's going to be a great tribulation that must be endured to the time of the end. They will be saved."

What is the great tribulation in the last days? In a word or few words, it's the seven last plagues. When you read in Revelation chapter 16, verse 1, "Then I heard a voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, 'Go pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth." And as you read in Revelation 16 about the seven last plagues that are poured out on the earth, I mean it's pretty bad. It's talking about men being scorched with great heat, it's talking about people being afflicted with noisome sore because they worship the beast and his image. Talks about the waters being turned to blood, both ocean and freshwater supply.

Now, you look at those pictures of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and everyone pictures this: the plagues and the death, and it's going to be a terrible time that is going to happen. Jesus said, "A time like there never has been." Read, for example, in Daniel 12--by the way, Christ in Matthew 24 is quoting this verse in Daniel. Daniel 12, verse 1 and 2, "And there will be a time of trouble such as never been, ever since there was a nation, even to the same time."

Now, is he talking about a great time of trouble or tribulation for the Jews? For the church? Let's keep reading. "And at that time, your people shall be delivered. Everyone who is found written in the book," that's the book of life, "and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake," what's that? The resurrection. "Some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."

So we know the great tribulation just before the second coming and the resurrection is still future. It happens when probation closes. Now, what do I mean by that? There will be a period of time just before Jesus comes back, when the lost cannot be saved. Life will go on, but it's too late for everybody. The saved are saved and the lost are lost. Revelation 22, Jesus said, "He that is clean let him be clean still. He that is filthy, let him be filthy still."

You know, right now, we're just so thankful that God is so merciful. His mercies endure forever. He is so patient, but you can reach a point of no return. In Noah's day--and Jesus said, "It will be as it was in Noah's day." In Noah's day, there was a period of time when all the animals got on the ark, Noah and his family got on the ark, and the doors open, and he made his final appeal; made his altar call. Nobody came, and the door was shut. Did it start raining right away? No, seven days went by. The lost outside the ark were doomed. Their probation had closed. There was no hope for their being saved. The door was shut. They still got up for several days, and they enjoyed their business, and they ate, and they drank and they married, and they build, and they did whatever they normally did. And God supplied the sunshine, He supplied the produce of the field, and they all laughed at Noah and didn't realize it was too late. Probation had closed. And so, it's talking about then, this great time of trouble before the second coming.

And then I told you that there's of course personal tribulation. Let me just touch on that quickly. Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to me--to you rather, that you might have peace. In the world, you'll have tribulation. Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." So Jesus said, "I'm sharing these things with you, that in me, you may have peace. In the world, you'll have tribulation but be of good cheer." He says, "Have peace and be of good cheer. I've overcome the world."

So when you hear about great tribulation, if you are in Christ, cheer up. The worst it gets, it means the sooner he's coming, so you don't need to be afraid. 2 Timothy 3:12, "Yes, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution ." "Pastor Doug, can you please, is there a loophole here somewhere? How can I be a Christian and escape persecution?" I'm sorry, friends. That's not an option. If you're hiding your light under a bush, well then, you're not a Christian. "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so they did of the false prophets."

If you're wanting an easy life, life is tough. But if you're going to make someone mad, make the devil mad. Don't make Jesus mad, 'cause the devil's going to lose and Jesus is going to win. You want to be on the winning team. So there's going to be problems in life. You may as well make up your mind that you're going to be on God's side. Amen? "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood," Ephesians 6:12, "but against principalities, against powers against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places."

Tribulation, when God allows us to individually go through tribulation, it might be for a health problem facing. Some go through family issues that are very serious, that represents a tribulation. You might be in a country that's in a war. It might be a terrible financial problem that has caused a crisis in your life. All kinds of tribulations happen, but you know what? Tribulation produces character. Romans 5:3-4, "And not only that, but we glory in tribulations." How many of you look forward to tribulation with glory? "We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope." How many of you want hope? How many of you want character?

How many of you want tribulations? Well, He said we should rejoice in it because that's what it produces. If you want the character, and if you want the hope, the trials will come. That's what develops it.

Now, I told you that word "thlipsis", tribulations, it's got an underlying meaning of something being squeezed or placed under pressure beneath a great weight such as in squeezing olives. And what do you get when you press the olives? Olive oil. That's a good thing. And in Bible times when they made grapes, they were tribulated. They were pressed, they were squeezed, and you got the wine. These are two biblical symbols, but you get the good things. You get the sweetness as a result of the tribulations. James 1, verse 2 and 3, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."

Count it all joy. If you're going through trials, say, "All right, Lord. You know what? I'm going through a trial." I'd say something like this, I'd say, "All right, Lord; thank you." I have to choke it out sometimes because you don't feel thankful at the time, but you have to trust him and you thank him. Bible says, "Thank the Lord in all things. "Thank you, and Lord whatever it is you are trying to teach me, help me to learn it now so I won't have to repeat this class." I mean it's like you know, fifth grade was the best three years of my life. You don't want to repeat that class. And so, don't be amazed when you go through trials. 1 Peter 1:6, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be you've been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith being much more precious than gold or diamonds that perishes, though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, and honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

How many of you want to be found pure and ready when Jesus comes? It's through the tribulations and the trials that we go through, that that's prepared. God cleanses his people through fiery trials. You can read in Matthew 3, verse 10, "Even now the axe is laid at the root of the tree. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." He said, "I baptize you with water," John the Baptist speaking, "unto repentance, but he is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

How many of you want the baptism of the Holy Spirit? But what if God's baptizing you with the fire of the Spirit means fiery trials? Do you still want the Holy Spirit? Paul says, 1 Corinthians 3:12, "Now if anyone builds this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear for the day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire. The fire will test everyone's work of what sort it is."

If you want to be prepared for the great tribulation, then we need to learn to survive the storms that come into our lives now, and embrace the things that transform us. Amen?

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