THE GREAT TRIBULATION PERIOD
We have seen that the second coming of Christ consists of two phases, and that these two phases are to be separated by a period of time. The author has stated his belief that this period of time will be the time of the future great tribulation. His reasons for this belief will appear in the course of this chapter. We shall study this period under the following heads:
I. THE SCRIPTURES THAT DESCRIBE THIS PERIOD
The first Scripture we desire to notice is Matt. 24:21, 22, and reads as follows. "For then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved; but for the elects sake those days shall be shortened." That these words cannot be wholly referred to the sufferings of the Jews at the time of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A. D. 70, is shown by verses 29 to 31. These verses tell us that immediately after the tribulation of those days Christ will come in power and great glory. This clearly refers to the second phase of Christ's coming. Nothing that attended or resulted from the destruction of Jerusalem can fully satisfy these verses. It is true that according to verse 34 the destruction of Jerusalem brought about either a spiritual or a typical fulfillment of all that is predicted in this part of the discourse.
The destruction of Jerusalem struck the death-blow to Judaism, and marked the coming of the kingdom of God with power, as Jesus had foretold (Mark 9:1; Matt. 16:28; Luke 9:27). This was a spiritual fulfillment of all Christ said about His coming in this chapter. And the siege of Jerusalem (A. D. 70) brought about a typical fulfillment of all He said about Jerusalem in this chapter. But the literal fulfillment of that which Christ said about His second coming, and the anti-type of the siege of Jerusalem are yet to come. No believer in verbal inspiration can find in the destruction of Jerusalem a full and complete satisfaction of the prophecy of this chapter. Its ultimate reference must be to the final siege of Jerusalem in the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-21; 19:11-21; Zech. 12:2-9; 14:1-7, 12-15), and to the personal and bodily coming of the Lord, as promised in Acts 1:11.
This shows that all Gentile believers (and previous Jewish believers) have been taken out of the earth, and, therefore, that the rapture of the saints (which will occur at the first phase of Christ's coming- 1 Thess. 4:15-17) has already taken place. Then the second phase of Christ's coming is clearly pictured in Rev. 19:11-21. Therefore we take the intervening section of the book as describing the interim between the two phases of Christ's coming. And we relate chapter six to this period because we regard the riders of the four horses (6:2-8) the same as the four angels (7:13) whose work is restrained until after the sealing of the servants of God.
2. Then in Rev. 7:14 we have a reference to the great tribulation period as being in progress.
Rev. 7:14 reads: "These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their clothes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." These words were spoken of the numberless multitude in verse 9. The original here is very emphatic. It says literally: "These are they that are coming out of tribulation, the great one." It is not just tribulation in general that is spoken of here; it is a definite and particular tribulation, viz., the great one. In this verse the present participle, "are coming out," shows the great tribulation to be in progress. Thus we assign this section of the book to the great tribulation period.
II. THE LENGTH OF THIS PERIOD
It is our conviction that this period will be seven years in length. We hold this conviction because the combined time of the prophesying of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3) and the career of the Beast (Rev. 13:5) is approximately seven years. Note that the witnesses are to prophesy "a thousand two hundred and three score days (approximately three years and a half); then the Beast is to arise and kill them (Rev. 11:7), and is to continue "forty and two months" (Rev. 13:5). It is our opinion that the witnesses will begin testifying soon after the rapture, and since the Beast is to be destroyed when Christ comes to judge and make war (Rev. 19:11-21; 2 Thess. 2:8), we conclude that the length of the intervening period is to be found by the above method. It will be noted that we take the thousand, two hundred, and three score days and the forty-two months literally. We do this in harmony with the rule mentioned in our last chapter. We find no reason for taking it otherwise either in the passages themselves, or in their context, or in any other Scripture.
III. THE HORRORS OF THIS PERIOD
This period is to be the "day" of God's wrath. During this period the God to whom vengeance belongeth will avenge Himself of the treatment this world has accorded His Son and His saints. He will fully avenge His elect (Luke 18:7; Rev. 6:9, 10). He will pour out the vials of His wrath to the last bitter dregs upon this old sin-cursed and devil-darkened earth. The earth will be wrested from the Devil and his people and given to the people of God (Matt. 5:5).
IV. WILL ANY BE SAVED DURING THIS PERIOD?
This is a much controverted question, but we unhesitatingly give an affirmative answer as our opinion. In chapter eleven, as we have seen already, we have the mention of God's two witnesses. We have stated already that we believe these two witnesses will prophecy during the interim between the two phases of Christ's coming. We believe they will preach the gospel and announce the millennial kingdom, just as Christ and the apostles preached the gospel and announced the spiritual kingdom (the kingdom of God) and the temporal phase of the kingdom of Heaven. We can think of no other message God would have for the world during this period.
And we hold that the one hundred and forty-four thousand Jews of Rev. 7 will be saved immediately after the beginning of the great tribulation period.
Then, because of the present tense in vs. 14, we regard the multitude in Rev. 7:9-17 as containing some who are saved during this period, and who, having been martyred or having otherwise died, are immediately caught up to Heaven, somewhat after the same manner as the two witnesses in Rev. 11:7-12.
Also we take the sheep in the judgment of the nations (Matt. 24:31-46) to be people who have believed and been saved during this period.
It may be asked how people will be saved during this period. We answer that they will be saved in exactly the same way that all others have been saved. God has never had, and never will have, but one way of salvation. That one way is by grace through faith. "But," someone may say, "how can people be saved after the Holy Spirit has been taken out of the world?" The answer is that they will be saved just as they were before the day of Pentecost. During the great tribulation period the Holy Spirit will have access to the world just as He did before the day of Pentecost.