Surviving the Great Tribulation

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: In August 2018, the government of New Zealand passed legislation cracking down on a surge of foreigners buying property in their country. One reason for the high demand is the mounting global anxiety about the increase of natural disasters and political turmoil plaguing the globe. Some of the world’s richest people are seeking to build luxury bunkers in New Zealand, which is considered to be an ideal remote location in the event of a nuclear apocalypse. These hi-tech bunkers are buried 13 feet below the surface and feature bullet resistant doors, advanced air filtration systems, backup batteries, and even luxury accommodations, such as bowling lanes, media rooms, and swimming pools. However, if you’re looking for this kind of first-class survival shelter, it will set you back $11.5 million—not including installation.

Have you ever experienced a great tribulation?

Considering the headlines these days, you might feel as if you’re in the middle of one right now. And no doubt, we’re living in very interesting times. Every day, it seems there is another scary crisis in the news. Whether it’s potential war with China or Iran or massive wildfires and hurricanes plaguing the United States, we’re inundated with news of major troubles—that is, tribulation.

Some even believe that things are so bad, we’re at the threshold of an apocalyptic event in time the Bible calls “the great tribulation.” While different denominations debate the timing for this period, virtually all churches agree those living on the earth in the last days will experience a great tribulation. And most believers look upon it with different degrees of apprehension.

With that in mind, I am not sharing this information to frighten you; I don’t lose any sleep worrying about the great tribulation. But suppose your family were taking a rafting trip; wouldn’t you want the river guide to tell you about any rough rapids around the corner so you could be prepared to hang on to the ropes?

Well, in Matthew chapter 24, Jesus warns us there will be some turbulent times for those living on the earth just before His return. Let’s take a close look.

Here we find the disciples and Jesus discussing the Jewish temple. One of the Lord’s statements certainly shocked His followers. “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (v. 2).

On a recent trip to Israel, Karen and I saw some of these very stones. Some are massive, weighing 150 tons. The idea that not one stone would be left upon another is flabbergasting. This prompted the disciples to pry from Jesus deeper details. “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (v. 3). Let’s look at Jesus’ answer, found in verses 4 to 22:

Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Therefore when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place … then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. … For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

Notice the wording in verse 21: “There will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” The language used is breathtaking, isn’t it? Those words frighten many people.

I remember my church being filled with anxious people on the weekend following 9/11. They had seen those apocalyptic images of buildings imploding in downtown New York. They never dreamed this kind of calamity could come to America’s shores. But truth be told, that event pales in comparison to the bombing of Dresden and the siege of Stalingrad. And consider Pearl Harbor and the atrocities of the Holocaust. Think about the monstrous tsunamis that hit Japan or Indonesia. And what about the Black Death and the Dark Ages? There have been so many horrific events in history—a relentless stream of great tribulations.

Many times, the things we worry about don’t actually end up so bad. Most of the pain is found in the anxiety and anticipation. But in the case of the great tribulation, you probably cannot over-imagine how bad it will be. Jesus said regarding that time, “Unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved.” In other words, without God’s intervention, nothing would survive.

The Four Tribulations
It’s important for us to note that there are really four different types of tribulation encompassed in Matthew chapter 24—a tribulation that applied to Israel, a tribulation of the church, a global final tribulation, and a personal tribulation.

Obviously, when Jesus said there wouldn’t be one stone left upon another in the temple, He was talking about the fall of Jerusalem and the literal destruction of the temple. This is the first tribulation, the one that profoundly affected the nation of Israel. The historian Josephus tells us that 1.1 million Jews died when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70.

But then His prophecy becomes broader, more comprehensive. There’s also a tribulation that especially afflicted the New Testament church. Verse 9 says, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations.” That phrase “all nations” implies a global persecution, and Revelation chapter 11 speaks of a specific time for this tribulation. “They will tread the holy city [God’s people] underfoot for forty-two months” (v. 2). Since a Jewish month has thirty days, forty-two months equals 1,260 days, which in prophetic terms equals 1,260 years.

And once again, this prophecy was precisely fulfilled. The pure church was ground down and oppressed by spiritual Babylon during this vast age, the time of great papal persecution—from AD 538, when the papacy gained military power, to 1798, when it temporarily lost its political power because of Napoleon. For 1,260 years, those faithful to God and His commandments fled into the wilderness.

These Dark Ages were a time of intense tribulation. Historians estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million Christians and Jews were killed, in various campaigns like the Inquisition, over this span of time.

With this background, what is the great tribulation of the last days? Simply put, it’s the seven last plagues. “I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth’ ” (Revelation 16:1). Scripture goes on to describe men being scorched by great heat and afflicted with sores because they worshiped the beast. The waters of the earth are turned to blood. When Jesus says it will be a time like there has never been, He is quoting from the book of Daniel.

At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt (12:1, 2).

From the reference to the book of life and the resurrection, we can see that this passage applies to the church and the “mark of the beast” end-time tribulation occurring just before the Second Coming. Daniel tells us that Michael, whom I believe to be an Old Testament term for the Messiah, stands up at that time. When a judge is seated, he’s listening to evidence. When the judge hits his gavel and stands up, it means “case closed.” With judgment concluded, Michael stands up to come rescue His people.

But there’s another implication: the closing of probation. What do I mean? There will be a period of time just before Jesus returns when the lost cannot be saved. Life will go on, but the saved are saved, and the lost are lost. (See Revelation 22:11.)

While God is patient with all people, it’s possible to reach a point of no return. Consider that Jesus said the end time will be as it was in Noah’s day. When Noah stood at the entrance of the ark and made his final appeal, nobody but his family responded. He then went inside and the door was shut. The Bible says that life went on for the doomed souls outside the ark. Their probation had closed, yet they still got up the next seven days—eating, drinking, building, marrying, and laughing at Noah—unaware that it was too late. Likewise, there will be a similar period of time near the end when probation has closed but life goes on.

Before the great tribulation of the end time, before the seven last plagues, there will be a “small time of trouble,” a testing time, during which a law will be passed that you cannot buy or sell unless you bear the mark of the beast. (See Revelation chapter 13.) From there, problems will escalate until those who refuse to worship the beast are threatened with death. Once probation closes, I don’t believe there will be any martyrs, but there may be some put to death for their convictions during the small time of trouble. Indeed, there are Christians dying for their faith in many parts of the world today.

The small time of trouble will involve persecution through religious laws. Many will flee from the great centers of population when the “abomination of desolation” occurs—when our freedom to worship according to the commands of the one true God will be taken away. At this time, apostate Protestantism will join Papal Rome in sponsoring laws that tell us how and whom to worship.

Many people question whether the United States could actually sink to this level of religious persecution. But as we’ve seen historically, when people are afraid, they’re willing to sacrifice freedom for some illusion of security. When severe problems strike, people also look for someone to blame. In this case, the majority will believe that God is punishing the planet because of the insubordinate minority. Those who refuse to cooperate will be seen as religious fanatics and will become obvious targets. I can easily see how all of that could unfold. Can’t you?

Surviving Tribulation
Most of us who have lived a few years can honestly say, “I’ve gone through tribulation.” We all experience major troubles in this life. For you, it might be a health problem, a serious family issue, a financial crisis, or you might live in a country that’s at war.

But perhaps the biggest tribulation you and I face occurs within our hearts. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” says Ephesians 6:12, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

The greatest tribulation in the life of Christ was probably the Garden of Gethsemane, just before the cross. His suffering was so intense, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). But what happened? Jesus fully surrendered to the will of the Father, praying three times that “not my will be done.” The surrender of self is the greatest tribulation faced by believers. The apostle described the battle in this way: “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4).

We all experience tribulations that we would prefer to avoid. But at the same time, tribulation produces character. “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3, 4). Do you want hope? Do you want character? You can actually rejoice in tribulations because these qualities are produced by troubles.

Do you want to be found pure when Jesus comes? It’s through the tribulations and the trials we experience that our hearts are made ready. We must pray, “Lord, not my will but thy will be done.”

Nowhere in Scripture are we taught that God will vacuum up His people before the great tribulation. The Bible says, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Does God promise to save His church from tribulation or through tribulation? It’s an important distinction. Did God save Noah from the flood, or did He save him through the flood? Did God save the young Hebrews from the fiery furnace? Or did He save them through the furnace? The children of Israel were in Egypt when the plagues fell, but God saved them through the plagues. He didn’t snatch away any of these people before these crises happened.

That might sound scary, but look closely—it’s also why you don’t need to fear the seven last plagues. God even promises, “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Psalm 91:10). But while I’m not worried about the plagues, I do want to make sure that any tribulation that comes into my life before then prepares me so that I’m ready for the tribulation.

Thus, the key to surviving the great tribulation is to allow God to transform you now. If you’re faithful in the little tribulations that come, in the fiery trials you go through, saying, “Lord, purify me, purge me, whatever You need to do”—if you embrace those things that humble you now, if you are willing to learn the lessons of righteousness—He will prepare you. You’ll have nothing to fear from the great tribulation. Indeed, your faith will be strengthened as you see prophecy being fulfilled.

Nothing to Fear
I remember hearing a story about a wagon train of settlers who were crossing a great Western prairie. Suddenly, off in the distance, they saw the thing they feared most—smoke and a raging wildfire. The grass was four feet tall, and the wind was driving the scorching flames toward their company. Not knowing what to do, the settlers were about to panic, but the wagon master said, “Trust me.” He then lit a fire behind their caravan, and the wind blew it away from them. A grass fire burns quickly, so the grass immediately turned to ash. Then, just in time, he directed the whole camp to move their wagons and animals to the large section where the grass was already burnt. The children cried as they saw the approaching wildfire, but their parents reassured them, “The fire cannot hurt us now because we're standing where it has already burned.” The flames roared around them, but other than some annoying smoke, they were safe.

You don’t have to worry about the trouble of the last days if God has already purged everything that’s flammable in your life—but you must allow Him to do that work. Our only safety comes through putting our faith in Him. More important, if you are abiding in Christ, He has already taken the wrath of the Father upon Himself on your behalf.

To be prepared for the great tribulation, we need to face with faith the fiery storms that come into our lives now and embrace the things that transform us into the image of Christ. Jesus assures us that if we remain in Him, we can be of good courage—through any tribulation—because He has already “overcome the world” (John 16:33).


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