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An Overwhelming Surprise
To the Reader
If separated from the larger context of this book, this chapter could make God appear to be very cruel and unfairly harsh � so please read subsequent chapters as soon as possible! The devil delights in distorting the character of God whenever possible. The devil wants people to see God as a vengeful tyrant or a divine Santa Claus that can do no harm. Of course, both extremes are false. The same God who destroyed the world in Noah�s day and sent fiery brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah, also sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. (John 3:16) In short, God reveals His love for the human race in a well-documented balance between justice and mercy. Bible history proves that God is longsuffering. He extends mercy to sinners day after day, year after year � until the day comes when extended mercy no longer has any redeeming effect. Then, God justifiably responds in wrath to deal with defiant rebellion. I offer this introductory statement because the contents of this chapter may seem overwhelming the first time you read it, but please press on and read Chapter 2 as soon as possible.
No Longer a Book of Mystery
The book of Revelation contains several prophecies that integrate into one big story. Some prophecies in Revelation have been underway for centuries and others are about to begin. When we properly assemble all of the prophecies, a mind-boggling drama unfolds. God�s ways are wonderful to understand and so thrilling to discover. Some prophecies in Revelation are easy to understand and others are difficult at first, but we can say the same of God. Certain aspects about God are easier to understand than others. Ultimately, the book of Revelation confirms the good news that most people want to hear: A world of eternal joy and endless bliss is coming. The bad news is that God is going to test the inhabitants of Earth before He sets up His kingdom. (Revelation 3:10) God will separate "the sheep from the goats" before the Second Coming. The separation of the sheep from the goats is an important process in God�s plan because God will not permit rebellious people (represented by the goats) to enter His coming kingdom. God�s kingdom is reserved for people who love Him and exalt His righteous ways. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. . . . Nothing impure will ever enter it [the holy city] , nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb�s book of life. . . . He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Matthew 5:8; Revelation 21:27, 4, insertion mine)
The book of Revelation reveals that God will soon inflict the world with a series of 14 plagues. These events will not occur in random order nor will they be freak disasters caused by nature. The seven first plagues are called "seven trumpets" in Revelation because they serve the purpose of warning or awakening the people of Earth to the glorious arrival of Jesus Christ. The seven last plagues are called seven bowls because they represent seven full cups of God�s vengeance that He will pour out upon His enemies. Although the Bible completely explains these events, they will come as an overwhelming surprise for most people. Our Creator has carefully designed these coming events to achieve His goals, and He will carefully execute these judgments so that He can redeem the maximum number of people. As you read this little book, periodically remind yourself of two things: First, God so loved this world that He gave His only Son to die in our place and second, God�s patience with defiance and rebellion is limited. During the Great Tribulation, the people of Earth will see God�s perfect balance between justice and mercy. Remember this balance as you consider this study about the Great Tribulation. The next few pages give a brief overview of coming events.
How the Tribulation Begins
The Great Tribulation will begin suddenly. It will begin with a global earthquake that effectively disrupts the activities of the whole world. (Revelation 8:5) God has a few things to say to the human race, and He intends to arrest the attention of the world with a massive earthquake that literally stops everything and everyone in their tracks. The sudden cessation of life as we know it will force everyone to stop and wonder what is going on. This coming earthquake is particularly interesting because geologists theorized a "global earthquake" was physically impossible until the early 1990�s. Now, physical evidence is proving that Earth�s tectonic plates go much deeper into the core of Earth than previously thought, and this information has caused geoscientists to change their thinking. The book of Revelation predicts there will be a total of four global earthquakes. (Revelation 8:5; 11:13; 11:19; 16:18) These earthquakes will increasingly rip up the surface of the world, and the infrastructures of travel, communication and manufacturing will collapse during the Great Tribulation. These earthquakes have no equal in recorded history. Each earthquake will have greater strength than the one before it. The final earthquake will be so violent that it will literally move all of the mountains and islands from their places. (Revelation 16:20; 6:14)
Trumpet #1. Shortly (perhaps 30 days) after the first global earthquake, showers of white-hot hailstones will rain down from the sky. Meteoric firestorms will ignite unquenchable fires all over the world and the accompanying windstorms will destroy billions of acres of trees, food crops and vegetation within a few days. Of course millions of people will be left homeless and many more will suffer and die during this "rain of terror." (Revelation 8:7)
Trumpet #2. A few days after the meteoric showers of burning hail, Earth will experience two horrific asteroid impacts. The first asteroid will impact an ocean; the second will impact a continent. (Revelation 8:8-11) The first impact will create a series of tidal waves that will inundate coastal cities around the perimeter of the ocean. Seaports and coastal cities, well known for their immoral behavior, will completely disappear with overwhelming loss of life. Survivors will be frightened and distressed by the angry tossing of the sea. (Luke 21:25) Ships will not be able to cross the ocean and men will be powerless to do anything about the churning of the deep.
Trumpet #3. The second asteroid will impact one of Earth�s continents with devastating results. The impact will contaminate water supplies and cause extensive death. Ground waves from the impact will fracture geologic strata for thousands of square miles. Sewage, deadly bacteria, toxic chemicals and other garbage buried in the Earth will seep into underground aquifers. Underground rivers will become contaminated and they will carry their deadly mixture for thousands of miles. Revelation predicts that many people will die of drinking poisonous water.
Trumpet #4. Shortly after the second asteroid impact, the world will hear a terrible roar. Hundreds of powerful violent volcanic eruptions will occur. These will be numerous and powerful and cause great damage. Millions of people will perish. Revelation predicts there will be great darkness. (Revelation 8:12) The jet stream will carry megatons of volcanic ejecta and soot around the world in dense clouds that cause complete darkness. Scientists have observed this phenomenon in recent times. The extended absence of sunlight over the middle third of Earth (the breadbasket of the world) will prevent surviving crops from reaching maturity. Worldwide famine will begin.
In short, the first four judgments will create a horrible domino effect radiating into every aspect of life. Illness of all kinds will appear. Clean water and food will become scarce overnight and the misery index will be "off the scale." According to Revelation, 25% of Earth�s population will perish from these four judgments. (Revelation 6:8) Think about this. The population of Earth currently is more than six billion people. Twenty-five percent of six billion people is one billion five-hundred million people!
Trumpet #5. By the time the fifth trumpet sounds, Earth will have experienced a worldwide situation that is so desperate that we can only compare it to the flood in Noah�s day. God deliberately puts the whole world in a desperate situation because He knows it is the best way to get everyone�s undivided attention. From a parental perspective, God puts the warring nations of Earth in a type of "time out." God wants everyone to consider several issues. For example, God wants the world to know that the time has come for the nations of Earth to end. (See Daniel 2.) He wants everyone to know that He is about to establish His kingdom and He wants everyone to know the terms and conditions of being a part of His coming kingdom.
A few days before the Great Tribulation begins, God will anoint 144,000 servant messengers with exceptional Holy Spirit power. These people, from every nation, kindred, tongue and people, will speak for God for 1,260 days. The 144,000 will be ordinary people who will come from every religious background, and they will harmoniously proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the human race. As strange as it may sound, most of the world�s population will reject the terms and conditions of salvation.
About two and a half years after the Great Tribulation begins, God permits that ancient serpent, the devil himself, to appear on Earth physically. The devil will come with millions of angels and he will masquerade as Almighty God. (Revelation 9:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Revelation 13:11-18) The devil is the dreaded Antichrist. Deceptively cloaked in brilliant light and charming benevolence, the devil will claim that he is God. The devil will declare that he has come to establish a thousand years of peace on Earth. At this time, there will be three identifiable groups of people. The first group of people are those who have rejected the devil and decided to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The other group of people will readily receive the devil as God because of the miracles he performs. The third group of people will defy both the devil�s demands and the prompting of the Holy Spirit because they refuse to obey anyone. Since God is separating the people of Earth into two camps, sheep and goats, He will allow the devil to inflict great pain and suffering upon this third group of people who have chosen to defy both God�s and the devil�s authority. Fortunately, the devil will not harm the saints with this affliction. Many of the devil�s victims will eventually relent and join the devil�s camp. However, a few of his victims will come to their senses, repent of their defiance against the gospel of Jesus and receive salvation. The devil will even call fire down from Heaven to prove his assumed divinity. Consequently, millions of people will ultimately conclude that the devil is God and they will obey him with astounding zeal and devotion.
Trumpet #6. When the devil�s popularity and control of Earth reach a sufficient level, he will tell his followers that everyone who refuses to recognize him as God must be annihilated. I call the events of Trumpet #6, World War III. During this time, God will allow the devil and his angels to kill one-third of the world�s population. (Revelation 9:15) The devil will establish a one world government and he will exalt himself as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will control all of the necessities of life and if a person wants to buy or sell items for survival, that person must become a member of the devil�s kingdom. To demonstrate citizenship in his one world government, the devil will force the inhabitants of Earth to receive a tattoo on their right hand. This tattoo will be the number "666." People who serve as officials in the kingdom of the devil will receive a tattoo on their foreheads to show their superior rank. The tattoo on the foreheads of the devil�s lieutenants will be the chosen name that the devil uses. (Revelation 13:17) The placement of a tattoo on the forehead of Satan�s lieutenants is a blatant counterfeit of what God intends to do for His faithful servants, the 144,000, after He takes them to Heaven. (See Revelation 14:1; 22:4.)
Trumpet #7. Before Satan implements the mark of the beast, everyone on Earth will have heard the gospel and everyone will have made an informed decision for it or against it. When every person has made a decision, Jesus will close Heaven�s door of mercy. Jesus will announce that the offer of salvation is closed by saying, "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." (Revelation 22:11) Then, the second global earthquake occurs. (Revelation 11:19)
World�s Infrastructures Destroyed
According to the time periods given in the books of Daniel and Revelation, the first four catastrophic events could occur during a very short period, perhaps 30 to 60 days. The magnitude, extent and rapidity of these horrible events will catch everyone by surprise and they will cause every survivor to ask three questions. First, "What does God want?" In ages past, God has sent warning judgments mixed with mercy in an attempt to awaken people to their true condition. (Ezekiel 6; Zephaniah 2) In this sense, the seven trumpets will be no different. By gaining the attention of the world through His wrath, God will put His servants, the 144,000, in an authoritative position to present the terms and conditions of salvation. The overwhelming evidence of God�s wrath will be obvious to religious, as well as nonreligious minds. Through a sequence of carefully designed events, God will ultimately separate the survivors of Earth into two categories � those who are willing to submit to His authority and those who defiantly stand in rebellion.
The second question that will come to the forefront of people�s minds will be, "Why is God so angry?" Great terror will fill the hearts of those who survive the first judgments of God. Every infrastructure will be broken or demolished. Communication, travel, commerce, education, agriculture, healthcare and governmental assistance will be almost nonexistent. The availability of food and water will be questionable. Because the Holy Spirit will empower the 144,000 to proclaim God�s Word powerfully, the world will clearly hear why God is angry.
If the Bible teaches anything about God�s wrath, it reveals that God always takes action when a majority of people violate His laws and do evil. The Bible speaks of the flood in Noah�s day, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Jericho, the destruction of Jerusalem, and at the end of the age, the destruction of Earth. Revelation predicts that Earth will receive a series of 14 deadly blows. By the time the Great Tribulation has ended, God will have destroyed every defiant person on Earth. These three questions and man�s attempt to answer them � within the context of God�s cataclysmic manifestations � will produce the human response that Revelation predicts.
Man Responds to God�s Judgments
Because God�s judgments will be overwhelmingly destructive, world leaders will immediately declare the obvious: "These horrific events are acts of God." Religious leaders from all faiths will sincerely and promptly react by forming a coalition of religions from all nations. This coalition will agree with one voice that God is angry with the whole world. They will also agree that humanity needs a solution to appease God, but the solution will be problematic. Diverse religions do not agree on what is God�s will. The Catholic or Protestant view of God is different from the Islamic view. The Islamic view of God is different from the Jewish view, etc. The problem will be simple in definition. Humankind faces one angry God, but there are many religions on Earth � each trying to appease God according to its flawed view of God! Revelation calls the initial coalition of religious leaders "Babylon" because it will be totally confused by a membership of diverse religions. (Revelation 13:2-4; 14:8) The word Babylon itself is derived from the word Babel, which means confusion. (Genesis 11:6-9)
Overnight, a religious revolution that springs from fear and terror will catch the world by surprise. God�s judgments will harm every nation, state, city and community in some way. The fragile line of separation between church and state, especially in the United States and other western nations, will quickly vanish. The message from the coalition of religious leaders will be simple to understand: "God is angry with our decadence and violence. He has expressed His anger toward man�s wicked behavior. We must repent of our sinful ways and worship God or He will destroy the rest of us." The irony in this situation is that the coalition will correctly identify the problem, but their solution will be diametrically opposed to God�s will! This is exactly what God wants. God intends to set up a situation throughout Earth where His laws stand in direct opposition to the new laws that the coalition will advocate. This conflict over laws will set a global stage that will show where our highest loyalties lie.
Communal suffering is a powerful force that can bring diverse and antagonistic groups of people together in mutual respect. Sociologists have long noticed this phenomenon. For example, Hurricane Andrew nearly wiped out Homestead, Florida, (USA) in August 1992, but the hurricane actually brought about a new "Homestead," a new community of friendship and caring. Before the hurricane, people lived next door to each other for years without even knowing their neighbor�s name. Suddenly, the aftermath of the hurricane placed the survivors "in the same boat together." Talk about "fellow-ship!" The most expensive hurricane ever to hit the shores of the United States may have destroyed the neighborhood, but it formed a community. Neighbors soon discovered that they needed each other to survive � a typical response to shared suffering.
Shared suffering can produce a "communal effect" on a national scale as well. When terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the United States became a nation of united states overnight. For a few weeks, partisan bickering on Capitol Hill ceased. The communal effect produced national unity and because people�s minds focused on patriotism, political infighting stopped. Democrats and Republicans even met together on the steps of the Capitol Building for a prayer vigil. They worked together to enact laws quickly that would help the FBI and other agencies to root out terrorists that might be lurking in the United States. Citizens proudly displayed the American flag on thousands of buildings and millions of automobiles because a strong wave of patriotic sentiment swept over the nation. These reactions to the terror on September 11 were visible evidences of the "communal effect."
Expressing the scope of these matters in written form is very hard. Worldwide devastation will change everything overnight . The fear of God will humble all of the nations of the world for a season. The infighting and bickering of nations will stop. Everyone will realize that there is an Almighty God and the nations of Earth will be forced into realizing that humankind is accountable to Almighty God. (Genesis 6:5,6) In a setting of overwhelming destruction, it is easy to comprehend how global suffering and severe trauma can crescendo into a religious response that will culminate in a community of diverse, but united people.
"Sin Less" Laws
Revelation also predicts the coalition of religious leaders (Babylon) will have very close ties with the political leaders of the world. (Revelation 13:6-8) The religious leaders of each nation will urge its respective law makers into sponsoring laws that will appease God. The result will be the enactment and enforcement of laws demanding that people sin less. Obvious sins such as sexual immorality and other forms of immoral behaviors will be outlawed because religious leaders will argue that humanity cannot appease God unless those who defy God are punished. Christian leaders will use Leviticus 17, Daniel 9, Colossians 3 and other texts in the Bible to prove that God hates sexual immorality, murder, etc., as well as those who stand in rebellion against His laws. They will design these well-intentioned laws to prohibit any action that angers God. Of course, this is where the heart of the crisis forms and it is precisely the conflict that God wants. The laws of man will mandate that God be worshiped in a way that is contrary to His law. The question of survival and a conflict over the worship of God will be the core issues of the Great Tribulation. People will be torn between obeying God�s laws (presented by the 144,000) and obeying the laws promoted by the religious leaders of Babylon. (Revelation 13:8) Using this conflict, God will test every person on Earth to see who loves Him more than survival itself.
When fear rules, common sense is usually left behind. In this setting, religious leaders and lawmakers will exert enormous influence and authority over survivors. Due to the chaos caused by the first four catastrophic events, the leaders will establish martial law in all nations. Constitutional rights and privileges, due legal process and other inalienable rights that many nations currently respect will be suspended. Religious leaders will forcefully argue that God is justified in His great anger. (What else could they say � that God is not justified?) With one voice, leaders from all religions of the world will claim that man must repent of his evil ways and worship God. The religious coalition will maintain that God�s wrath will cease if there is less sin. Therefore, "sin-less" laws will be necessary. (Since most religious leaders do not understand Revelation�s story, they have no idea that God has ordained these 14 judgments.) The world�s religious leaders and most of the world�s politicians will unite and agree stating, "we cannot tolerate sinful behavior or all of us will perish." Lawmakers will respect the spiritual guidance of their nation�s religious leaders and enact laws mandating severe punishment for any person who offends God. (Many such laws already exist in most Islamic countries now.) Religious leaders will use the same argument the high priest used against Jesus, ". . . It is better . . . that one man die . . . than the whole nation perish." (John 11:50)
When a crisis arrives, the world will need crisis decision making. Some people will have the courage to speak out and refuse the demands of their government, while others will capitulate under the pressure. As time passes, people will begin to argue over the methods used to appease God and some will dispute the need to mandate righteous behavior through the imposition of law (legislating that God be honored and worshiped). History proves that most people resent having another man�s view of God forced upon them. Yet, the smoldering evidences of extensive destruction will be everywhere and government leaders will be looking for expedient ways to restore order. Over time, political leaders will increasingly capitulate to the demands of religious leaders. Like them or not, law enforcement officials will have no option but to enforce the laws enacted by the crisis government. The overwhelming destruction in every nation will silence most of the opposition. After all, what does a world do with an angry omnipotent God?
This may sound surprising, but God�s servants will voice the greatest opposition to the "sin-less" laws established by the governments of the world. The 144,000 will speak out against the views and doctrines of the religious coalition (Babylon). The mission of the 144,000 will be threefold: First, they will correctly explain why God is doing what He is doing. Second, they will explain how people are to worship God, which will be contrary to the laws that religious leaders and politicians have implemented. Third, they will encourage everyone to stand on God�s side and rebel against the man-made laws that are contrary to the laws of God. The 144,000 will proclaim that everyone who follows the laws of the religious coalition will be worshiping the devil himself, instead of God. (Revelation 13:4) Obviously, people will be listening, observing and considering their powerful confrontation. The Great Tribulation will be a very interesting time.
At this point in our study, we have summarized very briefly the events surrounding Revelation�s story. Now, a few comments are necessary about God�s wrath. God has three types of wrath � redemptive, destructive, and annihilative. According to the Bible, God will use redemptive and destructive wrath on Earth before Jesus appears at the Second Coming. The seven first judgments (seven trumpets) are redemptive in nature. The idea is simple: God mixes mercy with His judgments so that, if possible, many people will choose salvation and be redeemed. God will use redemptive judgments to open the minds and ears of billions of people to consider a gospel that is different from anything they have ever heard. He will use 144,000 people anointed with Holy Spirit power to preach the everlasting gospel and millions of people will receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. Unfortunately, an even larger number of people will reject the gospel and rebel against the authority of the coming King. After 1,260 days, God will terminate His offer of salvation and God will implement a second type of wrath. This wrath is called "destructive wrath." (Genesis 6:5-7; Revelation 15:1; 16:1-21) When sinful behavior goes beyond the point of redemption, God cauterizes the growth of sin with total destruction and He starts over. The flood demonstrated this type of wrath in Noah�s day, and it also explains the total destruction of sinful nations and empires since. God will use this type of wrath during the seven last plagues or the seven bowls. (Revelation 15:1) The third type of God�s wrath is "eternal annihilation." God has never implemented this type of wrath on Earth before. At the end of the one thousand-year millennium, God will resurrect all of the wicked. They must stand before the judgment bar of Christ and hear why He has refused to grant them eternal life. After the wicked confess that Jesus was righteous and fair in His decision, God will punish the wicked and totally annihilate both sin and sinners. "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. . . . Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." (Revelation 20:15; 22:14,15, KJV, insertion mine) The topic of God�s wrath is enormous and it requires study to understand the right balance between God�s mercy and God�s justice. This topic is covered in more detail in my book, Jesus, The Alpha and The Omega.
The Whole World Tested
The book of Revelation describes the seven trumpets and the seven bowls as seven first plagues and seven last plagues. These 14 events will not happen in random order nor will they be random manifestations of nature. Jesus told His disciples, "I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe." (John 14:20) Because the Bible gives the order of coming events in 14 steps, it is possible to identify and anticipate each phase of the Great Tribulation. If knowing the order of events is important, knowing the purpose of each step is even more important. Each person needs to know that God has deliberately and purposefully designed the Great Tribulation to accomplish several strategic objectives. The Bible indicates that God initiates the Great Tribulation, God controls the 14 steps of the Great Tribulation, and God terminates the Great Tribulation. God is Sovereign and He has several marvelous objectives that He will achieve during the Great Tribulation. For example, God has predetermined that the Great Tribulation will be a time of confrontation. A sovereign and righteous God plans to confront a world of many religions, cultures and languages with three simple truths. The 144,000 will present these three Bible truths which will confront thousands of errors. People who love God and seek to know His truth will submit to God�s three truths and receive eternal life. Many people who know nothing about God will turn to Him during Earth�s last hours and be saved! Others who hate God�s authority and His truth will defy the authority of God and rebel against God�s laws. Even though there are more than six billion people living in more than 220 nations on Earth, God has a very clever plan that will test everyone in every religion in the same way! (Revelation 3:10) According to Revelation, this is the process:
The first four trumpet judgments will overwhelm and startle everyone on Earth. The amount of destruction and loss of life will put the whole world in a state of shock. The fear of God will be a literal reality. The survivors of the first four judgments will intellectually and emotionally react. God will use His redemptive wrath and man�s reaction to His judgments to set up a very important test throughout the world. God wants His laws to stand in direct opposition to the laws of man. This juxtaposition will put every person in a difficult situation because rebelling against God will have severe consequences and rebelling against the laws of man will also have severe consequences. By setting up a global situation where there are only two options � obey the laws of God and suffer the wrath of man, or obey the laws of man and suffer the wrath of God � the innermost allegiance of every human being will be revealed.
God will set a situation in motion in every nation that will reveal who is willing to obey Him, even if it puts people at odds with their family, their religion and the laws of their government. By doing this, God will determine who loves Him and His truth above everything else. God has designed the Great Tribulation to be a great controversy and the Bible reveals how this controversy will end. There will be enormous casualties on both sides of the controversy, but God will triumph in the end because He is omnipotent. He has the power of resurrection! (Revelation 19:20,21; 1:18)