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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 18, 2018
The Great Tribulation
What is the scariest thing that you can think of? What would be your worst nightmare? Hollywood has been very creative with stories and multimedia presentations trying to frighten people, but nothing they have ever dreamed up can compare to what will actually happen in the future during the time period often referred to as “The Great Tribulation.” The Holy Spirit’s restraining influence will be removed allowing sin to abound and Satan’s influence to increase. God’s wrath will then also be poured out on the sons of disobedience. Revelation 6:15-17 describes the fear and turmoil as being so great that men will hide themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains and will cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” And this occurs before things get really bad.
Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all record Jesus’ brief description of what occurs during those years. The book of Revelation gives a more detailed description, and other books record prophecies that give additional information about what is to come. None of it is for the faint of heart.
When I was a young teen I read a fictional book based on the non-fictional truths of the book of Revelation. I remember having a very difficult time sleeping for several nights because the description of the wrath of God on a sinful world was so terrifying.
But part of the reason for God revealing these aspects of what will occur in the future is for that very purpose. There should be great fear concerning the wrath of God. There should be a terror that grips the human heart when it contemplates God’s judgment on man’s sin and rebellion. The apocalyptic revelations are a warning to all mankind to be prepared for the Lord’s return. It is a warning to non-Christians to repent or they will suffer God’s judgment, and it is a warning to Christians to live their lives in a worthy manner.
Last week we began our examination of Jesus’ prophetic answer to the disciples questions concerning “when these things will be, what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3). Remember that the disciples had no idea that Jesus would go to heaven and then return at some point in the future. Their expectation was that Jesus would set up His kingdom sometime in the very near future. They did not know how what Jesus had just said about the destruction of the Temple fit in with the ancient prophecies, but they were still looking forward to Rome being overthrown and Israel being set up as the dominant world power with Jerusalem as its Capital and the Messiah on David’s throne. This was the subject of the last question they asked Jesus prior to His ascension into heaven in Acts 1, “Is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” What sign would be given that would indicate that Jesus was ready to set up His kingdom as foretold by the Hebrew prophets?
The disciples did not know that there would be an intervening church age prior to Jesus establishing His earthly kingdom, and Jesus does not deal with that age here. In fact, as I pointed out last week, the church in not in view in these prophecies at all. The focus of these prophecies is the coming of God’s wrath on the earth, and the Church will not come under God’s wrath as stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” and Revelation 3:10, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
Jesus is speaking prophetically to the disciples. That is, He is talking with them, but His message is really for a future generation that “would not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). This was a common occurrence in Old Testament prophecies and several things in the text point out that this is what Jesus is doing here. As just mentioned, the generation that saw these things would not pass away until they were completed, and neither the disciples or anyone else has seen all of these elements described here come to pass. That includes the preaching of the gospel to the whole world for a witness to all the nations (Matthew 24:14), the “Abomination of Desolation” (Matthew 24:15), the “great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall” (Matthew 24:21), and the sun being darkened, the moon failing to give its light and the stars falling from the sky (Matthew 24:29). It takes extreme allegorical interpretation that denies the obvious and plain meaning of the text to try and apply these prophecies to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Last week we looked at what Jesus called the “beginning of birth pangs” described in Matthew 24:1-14; Mark 13:1-13; Luke 21:5-19. I correlated what is described in those passages to the events described in Revelation 6. That will be wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of the righteous and apostasy. All these things have always been true, but at the beginning of the great tribulation period, they will increase dramatically in frequency and seriousness just as birth pangs do. And prior to the end, the gospel will be preached to all the world as foretold in Revelation 7, 11 and 14 in regard to the 144,000 Jewish servants, the two Witnesses, and the angel that has “an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people” who proclaims, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
We pick up Jesus’ continuing description of this future time in Matthew 24:15
15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 “Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Matthew 24:15-22).
The emphasis in this passage and the parallel in Mark, which says the same thing, is that when this event occurs, danger has reached a peak and you must flee, for this will be followed by tribulation of such nature that nothing prior or anything after would compare.
Luke is writing to a Greek man, Theophilus, and gives additional detail specifically relevant to the Gentiles. 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21 “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. 23 “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:20-24).
Jerusalem has been surrounded by armies many times, but this one appears to correspond to the prophecy in Zechariah 14:2 in which Jerusalem is captured and plundered. This is the sign that the prophecies in Daniel 9 & 12 concerning The Abomination of Desolation and the times of the Gentiles are about to be fulfilled. The first sign of the armies surrounding Jerusalem is the warning to flee the city if you are in it, and do not go to the city if you are already in the country. The setting up of the Abomination of Desolation is the definitive sign that upon hearing about it those in Judea should flee to the mountains immediately because the danger has become so great that it is too late for preparation. The only thought should be to run for your life! This event marks the start of a period of tribulation unmatched by anything prior or will ever occur again.
What is this Abomination of Desolation – or more literally – the Abomination that makes desolate? Jesus specifically states that it is what Daniel the prophet had spoken of and that the reader should understand. Daniel speaks of an abomination of desolation several times and he refers to two separate events. One of these two events has already occurred under Antiochus IV and is a type of the future event that will occur under the Anti-Christ of the tribulation period.
Let me quickly give you some historical background. After the breakup of Alexander the Great’s kingdom, the nation of Israel was caught in the middle of two warring empires, the Selucids to the North in Syria, and the Ptolemys to the South in Egypt. For centuries, these two empires battled each other with Israel being caught in the middle between them. It seemed that no matter which empire won the most recent conflict, Israel was the loser. Antiochus IV came to power in 174 B.C. He became obsessive about expanding his kingdom and especially by conquering Egypt. He was quite proud and called himself Theos Epiphanes, meaning “God manifest.” The Jews hated him and called him by the similar sounding word, “epimanes,” which means, “the mad one.” After being forced out of Egypt by Roman military power, Antiochus took out his wrath on the Jews. Daniel 11:31 foretold hundreds of years prior, “And forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”
Antiochus went on a wild campaign of forced Hellenization of the Jews. He wanted to change their culture and make them like the Greeks including the worship of the Greek gods. He slaughtered those who refused to submit. He stopped the Temple sacrifices to the Lord, and then he set up a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This was the first “abomination that made desolate.”
But Daniel prophecies of another such atrocity that is still to come in the future. In Daniel 9, the Lord gives Daniel a panoramic view of the future especially as it relates to the Gentile oppression of the Jews. Daniel 9:24-27 records, 24″Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. 25So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
Without going into all the detail here, the Gentiles would oppress the Jews and Jerusalem for 70 weeks of years, or 490 years, but this would be broken into two parts. The first 69 weeks (483 years) marked the time from the decree of Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. for the rebuilding of walls of Jerusalem until A.D. 30 when Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then is “cut off” by the crucifixion. The seventieth week is still to come for it is the period of the great tribulation which is described in detail in the book of Revelation. Half way through that week of years will come one who will stop the sacrifice and will make desolation. (See: Understanding the Vision – Daniel 9:20-27)
Daniel 11:36 comments further on this individual and his actions stating that“he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods.” In Daniel 12:11, the angel tells Daniel that “from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.” That is 30 days longer than 3½ years. Revelation 13 correlates with this stating that the Beast sets himself up to be worshiped and he blasphemes God for 42 months, which is 3½ years. (See: The Despicable Man – Daniel 11:21-35 & The Future Foretold – Daniel 11:36-12:4)
The evidence indicates that this abomination that causes desolation is when the Anti-Christ ends the Temple worship and sets himself up to be worshiped instead. Many Bible scholars believe this may even occur in the form of a statute of himself that he will set up in the holy of holies in the same way that Antiochus IV had set up an idol of Zeus. This will be very obvious to everyone who desires to understand it when it happens.
Jesus goes on to express the urgent need for all those who are in Judea to flee to the hills when it happens. Run for your lives! The urgency of doing this is stressed by the illustrations He gives.
The typical homes in Judea at that time were generally built with flat roofs so that they could be used as additional space for work, storage, or just enjoying the cool evening breeze after a hot day. The roof was usually accessed by a stairway on the side of the house. Jesus states in Matthew 24:17 that if you are on your housetop and you find out the abomination of desolation has taken place, don’t even take the time to go into the house. In Matthew 24:18 He states that if you are working in the field and find out about it, don’t even take the time to cross the field to fetch your coat. Both of these illustrations emphasize the necessity to flee to the mountains without any hesitation. There is no longer time to even quickly grab supplies from the house or cross the field for your coat. Flee immediately for persecution is coming!
In Matthew 24:19-20, Jesus mentions situations that would make this very difficult. Those who are pregnant or have a nursing baby would have a difficult time because those conditions make it hard or even prevent moving quickly. It would also be difficult if it happens in the winter or on a Sabbath. The cold, wet weather of winter makes travel and hiding in the mountains more difficult and any hindrance could be fatal. And if it occurs on a Sabbath, those holding to the Sabbath travel restrictions would be greatly hindered and the orthodox might even try to obstruct other people from breaking those Sabbath travel restrictions.
Jesus’ emphasis is obvious. The Abomination of Desolation will herald the outbreak of a very severe danger for those in Judea. There will not be a moment to lose in fleeing to the hills. In Matthew 24:21 Jesus describes what follows it as “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” There has been nothing before and there will be nothing after that will compare to it. Daniel 12:1 states the same thing, “And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.” It is not that this distress will be greater in magnitude than disasters that had occurred in prior times, for the destruction of the world that then was by the flood during the days of Noah will not be equaled until the earth is destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3). This distress is also not in specific reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and slaughter of its people, for that had happened before. The worst to that point was Babylon capturing Jerusalem three times and finally destroying it 586 B.C.
This great tribulation will be different in nature than what had occurred in previous times. The danger that will arise in Judea will primarily be a persecution of the Jews. The Anti-Christ will have swept through the Middle East and begin a severe persecution of the Jews. Luke 21:22 states that “these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” He adds in verses 23-24, “. . . for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Zechariah 13:8-9 describes the slaughter of that time, “And it will come about in all the land,” declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and the will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”
This is why Jesus makes such an emphasis on the urgent need to flee to the mountains to hide without any hesitation. Revelation 12 also describes the necessity of fleeing. The woman of that chapter, representing Israel, flees into the wilderness for 1,260 days – 3½ years (12:6). The anti-Christ will also vent his wrath on the surrounding nations, and according to Revelation, on those who profess Christ. Revelation 6 & 7 both describe multitudes of people who are martyred because of their testimony for Christ.
What occurs after the Abomination of Desolation that is described Revelation 7-18 will be the worst period of tribulation that has ever or will ever occur. It is so bad that in Matthew 24:22 Jesus states, “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.”
The cutting short of the days cannot refer to the number of days, for that is already determined in Scripture as 1,260. The cutting short must then refer to either the length of the day or the length of daylight. Either one requires a miracle at the hand of God as a means to enable the elect to better hide from the Anti-Christ.
The term “elect” refers both to the remnant of the nation of Israel that will turn to Christ and to the Gentiles that come to Jesus during the tribulation period. If the days had not some how been cut short, no life would be left, but God does cut them short for the sake of the elect, His chosen people.
Another danger in this time of tribulation will be the continuing effort of false prophets to deceive as warned in Matthew 24:23-24, “23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”
The Apostle Paul describes this same thing in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 telling about deceptions of the future anti-Christ, “9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Revelation 13:13-14 describes the deception of the beast who “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.” His deception includes the appearance of raising someone from the dead.
As people are hiding in the mountains, there will be a continual effort to deceive them into believing that Christ has returned even performing what appears to be miraculous signs. But Jesus warns against it in Matthew 24:25-28, “25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27 For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
The Lord will not return in secret. It will not be hidden. It will be as bright and obvious as lighting that strikes across the sky. Revelation 1:7 states that upon His return “every eye shall see Him.” Tell that to the next cult group that you encounter that tries to persuade you that Jesus has already secretly returned. There is no reason to believe such lies now, and there will be no reason to believe such lies in the future regardless of the miracles that may be done by the one claiming it. Jesus has already told us, when He returns, it will be obvious to everyone. That is the meaning of the proverbial statement in verse 28, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” It is easy to find the carcass of a dead animal because the circling vultures over it declare it to everyone.
Next week we will continue examining these passages to see exactly what the sign of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ will be.
As I said last week, the point of this is that God has already determined the future and revealed some of it to us. The question to you is what will you do with that knowledge.
If you are not a Christian, then take the warning given seriously. There is no guarantee that you will make it to this period for any of us could die any day at any time, but even if you did, what then? Salvation of your soul will probably come at the cost of your physical life? What holds you back from humbling yourself and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness now? Get right with the Lord Today!
If you are a Christian, then what sort of life you are living in the here and now? What is your mind set on? What controls your heart? In 1 John 3:2-3, the apostle encourages his readers with the promise of the Lord’s return and becoming “like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” He then states, And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Any study of eschatology, the doctrines of the end times, should encourage the Christian toward living in holiness in the present. If that is your present desire and quest, then rejoice and praise the Lord for His future promises that will fulfill those desires. If your mind is not set on the eternal things of God or you heart is not controlled by Him in the present, then change it now! You do not want to find out you are self-deceived after it is too late. If you are uncertain, then talk with any of our church leaders before you leave today so that you may have Peace with God and confidence in facing the future.
Sermon Notes – 11/11/2018
Prophecy should cause __________ in the unbeliever and motivation in the believer
The disciples wanted to know the signs of when Jesus would set up His ___________ (see also Acts 1)
Jesus is speaking _______________about what will occur during the time of a future generation
Matthew & Mark emphasize the ______________to flee when the Abomination of Desolation occurs
Luke 21:20-24 emphasizes what is related to the fulfillment of the times of the ___________
The Abomination of Desolation is the definitive ____of the start of the Great Tribulation – run for your life!
Israel was ___________the warring Selucids to the north in Syria, and the Ptolemys to the south in Egypt
Antiochus IV’s (174 B.C.) rampage against Israel was __________ in Daniel 11:31
In the effort to Hellenize the Jews, he set up a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies and sacrificed a _______
Daniel 9:24-27 is a panoramic view of the future as it relates to the ____________oppression of the Jews
There would be 69 weeks (____years) between Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. and Messiah being cut off in A.D. 30
Half-way through the 70th week (still to come), anti-Christ will stop the ____________and make desolation
Jesus emphasizes the ____________ need to flee immediately by His illustrations
Don’t go back inside the house or cross the field to get your coat – flee ______________to the mountains
It will be more __________for pregnant women, those with nursing infants or if it is Winter or on a Sabbath
It will be a time of vengeance, wrath, slaughter & trampling of Jerusalem by ___________- Luke 21:22-24
The “elect” are the ___________remnant of Israel and Gentiles that come to Christ during this period
Matthew 24:23-24 – false Christs & false prophets will seek to ___________, if possible, even the elect
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 – the deceptive ability of the future ____________
Revelation 13:13-14 – the deceptive ability of the future “____________”
Matthew 24:25-28 – Jesus warns against falling for the ____________
The Lord’s return will be not be secret / hidden – it will be _________for every eye shall see Him (Rev. 1:7)
What will _________do with this knowledge about the future?
It is a terror that should cause fear and ______________in the non-Christian
It is a motivation for believers to live _________lives in anticipation of the Lord’s return – 1 John 3:2-3
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times references are made to tribulation 2) Discuss with your parents how to respond to current persecution and be prepared for Jesus’ return.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the most frightening thing you can think of? What do you imagine life on earth will be like when the Holy Spirit’s restraining influence is removed and God’s wrath is poured out on rebellious mankind? Why does God give prophetic revelation of future events? What were the disciples seeking to know from Jesus by their questions in Matthew 24:3? Acts 1:6? Did the disciples yet understand Jesus’ departure and the coming of the church age? Why or why not? What effect does that have on interpreting Matthew 24? How do we know that the events prophesied in Matthew 24 are not fulfilled by A.D. 70? What are the “beginning of birth pangs” in Matthew 24:8? How do those things correlate with Revelation 6? Why does Luke 21 include additional material not found in Matthew 24 or Mark 13? What will be the significance of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies? How does this correlate with other prophecies? What was the first Abomination of Desolation prophesied by Daniel? How was that fulfilled historically by Antiochus IV? What is the purpose of Daniel 9:24-27? To what do the “weeks” in that passage refer? What marks the beginning and end of the first 69 weeks? What begins the 70th week? Who will carry out the second Abomination of Desolation and when will that occur within the 70th week? Give scriptural support. Why does Jesus stress so strongly the need to flee immediately when this occurs? What makes this tribulation period so different from previous periods of tribulation? How does Luke 21:22-24 describe what occurs then and why? How does this correspond with Old Testament prophecy? Jesus said in Matthew 24:22, “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” Read Revelation 7-18 to for a description of what will happen during that period. How does Paul describe the deceptive ability of the anti-Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12? How does Revelation 13:13-14 describe the deceptive ability of the beast? How do we know that claims of Christ returning secretly (spiritually) are false? What should be said to those that make such claims either in the present or the future? What is your response to Jesus’ revelation about what will happen in the future prior to His return?
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