People of Apocalypse

By Randall Price

The world today lives in fear of the apocalypse. These fears appear to be justified as we survey the world scene. An already soured global market has been shaken by the tidal wave of the Asian stock market collapse, even as the Russian economy totters near collapse following default on its huge domestic debts and devaluation of its currency. In the United States, too, economic forecasters warn Wall Street of an imminent stock market crash leading to a greater depression than any previously experienced. Such foreboding facts led UN Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick to recently state: "Nobody in the world we know is able to solve and sustain the international economy."' In the Middle East, cries for jihad ("Holy War") are being raised again as Saddam Hussein, now elevated by the Suni Muslim to the religious rank of calif, and the Palestinians in declaration of their independent state, prepare for a final conflict-all on the stage of a new nuclear Middle East where terrorists control weapons of mass destruction and whose own disputes threaten to ignite a global conflagration. Adding to these turbulent times is the fearful factor that as the world enters the threshold of the new millennium it must prepare itself for the as yet unknown catastrophic consequences of the Y2K computer crisis.

Despite this world being filled with apocalyptic fears, the worst has not yet been witnessed. That will come when hell literally breaks forth on earth, and the people of earth experience life in the Age of Apocalypse.

Tribulation or Tribulations?

How will we know when the Age of Apocalypse has arrived? After all, people feared that the end of the earth had come many times in the past, but those crises came and went without apocalyptic fulfillment. But Jesus taught, based on the Old Testament predictions, that "there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall" (Matthew 24:21). This statement indicates that all of the world's greatest disasters are nothing by comparison with the great tribulation that will one day engulf our globe. The event is to be unparalleled, both in extent (universal) and experience (extraordinary). This understanding also eliminates the temptation of those undergoing tribulations to consider themselves already in the tribulation. Jesus said to His disciples: "In the world you have tribulation..." (John 16:33). His statement concerned the present and continued condition of life (note the present active tense) for believers in this world system. In fact, "tribulations" are not viewed in Scripture as an option for the Christian life, but as the expected outcome: "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). Throughout the subsequent two millennia these words have found fulfillment as Christians have endured unbelievable hardships, persecution, pogroms, torture, indignities and myriad forms of martyrdom. Examples of such tribulations in past ages have been passed on in part through the well-known Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Yet the passage of time with its supposed civilizing of society and technological advances has not lessened the atrocities against the faithful. It has been stated by missiologists that the last century on earth has witnessed more martyrdom and persecution of Christians than in all the centuries since the time of Christ combined. Evidence supporting this claim has been documented in James and Marti Hefley's modern account of martyrdom in their book By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century. Ongoing global attacks of Christians are also reported by such organizations as "Voice of the Martyrs."

However, those who rightly divide the Word discern that the present experience of tribulation in the world is to be distinguished from the future experience by the world of the great tribulation. One major distinction is that during this age those who suffer tribulation do so in the absence of God's wrath. Today there is no direct display of divine justice on the earth in recompense for the injustices inflicted on the just. By contrast, those who suffer tribulation in the future age of the tribulation will do so in an environment that witnesses God's judgment poured out on earth in unprecedented measure, culminating with the return of the Judge Himself to the earth (see Revelation 19:11). In fact, it is the tribulations of those at present as well as their brethren in the great tribulation that will call forth God's wrath, as the prophetic Scriptures indicate. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 we read concerning those persecuted in the Church Age: "This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not ... obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."

In like manner, concerning those who are in the company of the saints during the tribulation, we read in Revelation: "How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? ... Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her" (Revelation 6:10; 19:1,2; see also 14:12; 11:18; 16:5,6). Another distinction between the tribulations of today and the great tribulation of tomorrow is the description concerning believers during these periods of trouble. Believers in "tribulations," especially those affecting the whole of the Christian community (such as the first-century persecutions) were described as better for the experience: "And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10). Believers were, therefore, to seek to avoid such trials, but welcome them as opportunities to grow in grace: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2,3; compare with 1 Peter 4:13,14). By contrast, those believers in the tribulation are described as being able to endure only because their experience will be reduced: "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be out short" (Matthew 24:22). They are not counseled to abide in their sufferings, but commanded to flee for their safety (Matthew 24:16-20; Revelation 12:6). This last point reveals that there is a distinct disadvantage to being a believer in the tribulation as opposed to any other crisis period in history. Since posttribulationists contend that the church must go through the tribulation and that believers will be preserved from the divine wrath unleashed during that period, we need to briefly consider these claims.

Who Will Live in the Age of Apocalypse?

It is clear that those who inhabit the Age of Apocalypse will be divided, as now, into two distinct camps comprised of unbelievers and believers. Both camps appear to have members who are Jewish' and Gentile, although a larger company of Jews are believers (see Revelation 7:1-8; 11:1; 12:13-17; Matthew 24:30 with Zechariah 12:10-14; compare with Romans 11:26). This leaves Gentiles ("the nations") as the largest representation of unbelievers (Revelation 11:2,9; 12:5- 14:8; 16:19; 18:3,23; 19:15; compare with Matthew 25:32). This first division of unregenerate mankind is most often referred to in the book of Revelation as "those who dwell on the earth" or "the earth-dwellers" (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8,12,14; 17:2,8). This term describes their origin (natural birth) and character as "earthly" as opposed to believers whose origin (new birth) and character is "heavenly." They belong to the earth and because the earth is to be destroyed in judgment, they are destined to be destroyed with it (2 Peter 3:7; Jude 10; Revelation 11:18). Another term used for them is "whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 17:8), which emphasizes their unrepentant and reprobate nature.

The second division of believing mankind is most often referred to as "the saints" (Revelation 11:18; 13:7,10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6; 19:8), "bond-servants" (Revelation 7:3; 11:18; 19:2,5; 22:3), "redeemed" (Revelation 5:9 Kiv; 14:3,4 KJV), and "brethren" (Revelation 6: 11; 12: 10; 19: 10), and are described with respect to their triumphant faith as overcomers (see Revelation 12:11; 21:7). The one term that does not appear for these believers after Revelation chapter 3 (until Revelation 22:16) is "church." This is strange since many of the other terms for believers such as "bond-servants" (Revelation 2:20) and overcomers (Revelation 2 726; 3:5,12,2 1) do reappear.' But if, as dispensational futurists contend, the church is shown to be in heaven (i.e., raptured) in Revelation 4:4-11 (as God reveals to John "what must take place after the completion of God's dealing with the churches in Revelation 2-3), then the church is the company of believers in heaven throughout the tribulation who are joined by the martyred tribulation saints. This identification removes the church from the tribulation, as many texts indicate (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:2,3; 2 Peter 2:9; Revelation 3:9,10), along with the understanding that a believing company (who apparently came to faith after the rapture and through the later witness of the 144,000 and the two witnesses) will go through the tribulation.

Nevertheless, those posttribulationists who argue that the church will go through the tribulation often state that this is necessary in order to purify it from its carnal ways. However, such a view does injustice to those Christian martyrs who have been through their own tribulations as part of the church. To be sure, the church in countries like the United States, where being a Christian is at present a protected and even preferred lifestyle, may appear to be less committed than the church struggling to survive under atheistic communism or Muslim terrorism. Nevertheless, God has told believers that the former, rather than the latter, is to be sought in Christian petition on behalf of "kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Timothy 2:2). If the church were in the tribulation, believers, in order to obey, would be required to intercede for Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet as the principal agents of Christian persecution during that time (Revelation 12:12,13,17; 13:7-10; 15-17). But this would constitute a contradiction in conduct. According to Scripture, believers are ordered to resist and overcome them (James 4:7,- 1 Peter 5:9, 1 John 2:14; 4:1-4; Revelation 11:5,6; 12:17; 13:7,10; 14:12). The only recorded prayers of the tribulation saints in regard to these evil entities are for their soon destruction (Revelation 6:10; 8:2,5-1 11:18; 15:2-4; 19:1-6; compare with 16:5-7).

Although God's wrath comes with the purpose of judgment on unbelievers, the consequences of such worldwide wrath must affect everyone who lives on the earth. If God presently judges our American nation because of its leaders' sins and our society's sins of apostasy, pornography, abortion, infanticide, homosexuality and so forth, will not every Christian living in the country also suffer simply because they are citizens? Has this not been the case for Christians living in nations such as Germany and Great Britain, once the center for the Reformation and Christian missions, but now filled with anti-Semitism and sorcery? Protection during the tribulation is selectively afforded "the 144,000" virgin Jewish saints, the divinely appointed "two witnesses" and part of the believing Jewish remnant ("the woman who gave birth to the male [child]," i.e., the Jewish people). These are sealed and protected (Revelation 7:3,4; 9:4; 11:4-6; 12:6,14-16) in order to perform their unique witnesses. Nevertheless, even the 144,000 and the two witnesses are permitted to be killed once their missions are complete (Revelation 11:7; 14:1), and the rest of the Jewish believers are left open to Satan's attack (Revelation 12:17). All other believers during this period are apparently able to be killed in earthquakes (Revelation 11:13) or savaged by the Antichrist (Revelation 13:7-10). It is for this reason that the plagues are sent to avenge the blood of the saints (Revelation 16:6; 18:20; 19:2).

Jewish believers during this time will particularly suffer as Zechariah 13:8 notes: "'And it will come about in all the land [of Israel],' declares the LORD, 'that two parts in it will be out off and perish."

Just as the Nazi Holocaust did not discriminate between believing and unbelieving Jews, neither will this future holocaust of the tribulation. We are not given a clear picture of what happens to Gentile believers, but they too are part of those martyred, appearing in, heaven as a great company from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9; see also 7:9). Furthermore, the plagues that come with the sixth trumpet kill a third of all mankind. Since no special protection is said to be given to the general population of tribulation saints, it must be assumed that many are also killed by these plagues. The difference, of course, is that the plagues are designed to punish unbelievers and bring their repentance or cause their deaths and seal their doom (Revelation 6:15-17; 9:20,21; 11:13; 16:8,9,21), whereas for believers they serve to deliver them beyond the reach of Antichrist and his oppressions and increase their rewards in heaven. This is especially stated in Revelation 14:13: "'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! "Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them"' (compare Revelation 7:14-17; 11: 18; 12:11).

Yet another eschatological option is offered by preterists who attempt to fit the details of the book of Revelation into the past historical event of the city of Jerusalem's destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. They have to radically minimize the wrath of God, both in its extent and severity, in order to limit it geographically to Jerusalem and agree with the recorded siege and captivity of its Jewish citizenry.' They also have to contend with the fact that Zechariah, Daniel, Jesus in the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation' all depict an opposite scenario: Gentiles as the object of wrath and Jews as the object of salvation.

The book of Revelation clearly reveals that in the tribulation judgments the "wrath of God is finished" (Revelation 15:1). The culmination of divine judgment comes with the final seven plagues that resemble the plagues against the Egyptians at the exodus (Exodus 7-10). Just as those judgments were sent to deliver Israel and punish its oppressors, so these will complete God's promise to "judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31; compare with 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Since the plagues of the seventh bowl judgment are the "last" and end the wrath of God, they can only end with the final judgment of the wicked in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15). This cannot be construed in any eschatological scheme to be fulfilled in the past nor reduced to a remnant. As Robert Thomas correctly observes, "No amount of rationalization-such as some theonomists practice to soften the tone of ultimacy, absoluteness, and universality in finding a fulfillment of these plagues in the A.D. 70 events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem-can mitigate the force of this language regarding the finality of these plagues."

The apocalyptic wrath of preterism can only account for one judgment against a small portion of the Jewish population (most of whom were living comfortably outside the land of Israel at the time), while leaving the unjudged world free from a divine wrath exhausted 2,000 years ago. Yet even the prophet Daniel saw that the magnitude of this "time of distress" was so pervasive and final that it had to be followed by the resurrection of the righteous and wicked (see Daniel 12:1,2; Revelation 20:4-6; 20:5). Therefore, in order to appreciate the unparalleled nature of the tribulation, let us survey what Scripture reveals life will be like for those who will inhabit this most terrible time in all of history.

Life in the Age of Apocalypse

The beginning of wrath ("the day of the Lord") is seen with the first seal judgment with a rider on a white horse going out "conquering and to conquer" (Revelation 6:2). Prewrath tribulationalists hold that wrath is reserved for the last quarter of the tribulation and is not present here. However, this depends on what one sees as indicative of the wrath of God. The- first use of the term wrath appears in Revelation 6:16,17 at the time of the sixth seal judgment, where the text reads: "the great day of their wrath has come However, the Greek verb elthen ("has come") used in verse 17 is aorist indicative, which looks back on wrath that has previously arrived. This wrath could be that portrayed in the sixth seal's terrestrial and celestial disturbances in the form of earthquake, atmospheric pollution and meteor/asteroid assault (Revelation 6:12-14). It could also just as easily encompass the previous five seals in which world conquest is initiated and global warfare ensues (Revelation 6:2-4), followed by worldwide famine with one-fourth of the earth's population destroyed (Revelation 6:5-8). According to Romans 1:18, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" and has been evidenced in cultures where idolatry and homosexuality have been tolerated (the continued cancerous presence of these lifestyles being part of the judgment itself). The end result of this corrupted society is that it is "worthy of death" (Romans 1:32).

If the figure on the white horse in the first seat of Revelation 6:2 is the Antichrist, then his assault on the world to bring it under his corrupt control is the culmination of a sinful society ripened for wrath. Since 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 connects the rise of Antichrist with worldwide lawlessness and deception (verses 4,8,10-12), the usurpation of deity as the climax of idolatry (verse 4) and the activity of Satan (verse 9), it should not be difficult to see Antichrist's foray for world conquest as the commencement of divine wrath on a mankind worthy of death. This is especially the case with the extensive and extraordinary manner of deaths that result from military slaughter, starvation, viral epidemics and wild animal attacks (Revelation 6:4-8).

Among the casualties of the violent opening months of the tribulation are believers who were killed because of their faith. They cry out for greater wrath to be sent to judge and avenge their deaths (Revelation 6:9-10). From the beginning of the tribulation (with the rise of Antichrist seen in the signing of a covenant with the Israelis [Daniel 9:271), God's wrath is progressively and increasingly unleashed on earth. With the conclusion of the sixth seal, the world's unbelieving population from the poorest to the richest, convinced that what they are experiencing is God's judgment, will believe that the Apocalyptic Age has come and the end of the world is at hand (Revelation 6:15-17). But the worst is yet to come.

As we move into the seventh seal and the trumpet judgments, we find that one-third of the world's vegetation is burned (Revelation 8:7), one-third of the earth's oceans and fresh water sources are polluted, one-third of all ships are destroyed (Revelation 8:8-11), one-third of the illuminaries are affected so that the world experiences unprecedented darkness (Revelation 8:12), a horrendous and unbelievably painful demonic attack occurs for five months (Revelation 9:1-12), one-third of the earth's population is killed (Revelation 9:15-18) and an earthquake accompanied by a huge hailstorm ravages the planet (Revelation 11: 19). Adding to these disasters are seventh seal bowl judgments that plague mankind with loathsome and malignant sores (Revelation 16:2), completely destroy all life in the seas and the waters of the lakes, rivers and springs (Revelation 16:3,4), burn people severely with increased radiation from the sun (Revelation 16:8,9), cover the earth with deep darkness (Revelation 16:10) and allow demonic spirits to gather the nations of the world for war to imitate the battles of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16). These battles include an initial attack and final siege against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:3-14:3), widespread destruction through an earthquake and 100-pound hailstones and the climaxthe burning of the world's commercial center, Babylon (Revelation 16:18-21; 18:2-19).

To this catalog of catastrophes we must add the horrors of life lived under the government of a demonic, power-mad ruler with a god complex (Revelation 13:1-10). The Antichrist will enslave the nations of the world (Daniel 11:36-40), invade the land of Israel, desecrate the Jewish temple, persecute the Jewish people (Daniel 11:41-45; Matthew 24:15,16; Mark 13:14,15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 11:2) and make war on all the saints (Revelation 13:7). Ile is joined by his deputy of deception, the false prophet, who will work deceitful miracles and require humanity to have complete allegiance to the Antichrist-or face death (see Revelation 13:11-15). However, to take the mark of identification with the Antichrist will be tantamount to renouncing God, thus dooming oneself forever (see Revelation 13:16-18). Overshadowing all of these figures is the evil one. Satan, cast down to the earth during the tribulation, will come with wrath against the world, knowing that his time is short (Revelation 12:12). This indicates that those who live in the tribulation will have spiritual encounters with demons as well as dramatic demonstrations of God's wrath.

No one in that day will be able to deny the existence of God or the supernatural, but neither will most people be able to avoid the deceptive signs and wonders that will lead them to embrace the Antichrist and their damnation (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). Today the presence of the Holy Spirit through the church permits a restraint of such evil, including the advent of Antichrist and the deception of the devil (2 Thessalonians 2:6,7). Once the church is raptured, however, the Holy Spirit's influence will be ended, and evil from hell will literally break loose. Though at first the lack of such restraint may seem like a new peace for the world, it will be a pseudo-peace that will fast foment the formation of the world around one wicked will. Today, the worst war, the most terrible tyrant, the most dreadful disasters, the most pernicious pestilences are nothing by comparison with what awaits in the Age of Apocalypse.

What Will Your Life Be Like?

Since the Lord first revealed through His prophets and apostles the coming conditions of the Age of Apocalypse, people have thought through the last two millennia that various local and global crises might be the apocalyptic age. As early as the first century epistle to the Thessalonians we read that the widespread persecutions and problems they faced influenced many of them to panic and even alter their lifestyle in fear that the end was at hand (see 1 Thessalonians 1:6,7; 3:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:4,5; 2:2; 3:6-12). This has followed suit in every similar situation whether influenced by famines, plagues, world wars, atomic bombs, petroleum shortages, environmental and population crises or the Y2K problem. However difficult these days have been or will be, they are but the experience of life in a fallen world that will pale in the onslaught of the Age of Apocalypse. Nevertheless, the cataclysmic catastrophes of the tribulation are not "extinction level events." The world and all those who inhabit it during this time will suffer greatly, but God still has a plan for the planet (the millennial kingdom). Earth's eventual destruction will be followed by a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1; compare with Isaiah 65:17; 66:22).

During the present age of the church, believers should expect tribulations in this world and face them with faith instead of fear "for it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17). For such people, "the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7).

When the tribulation commences with the signing of a covenant between the prince that shall come (Antichrist) and the "many" (the nation of Israel), as noted in Daniel 9:27, the world will enter a time of unparalleled deception followed by unprecedented destruction (see 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Like those in the days when Noah was building the ark, most of the world's population will not understand the severity of their condition until the flood of God's judgment has come and swept them all away (Matthew 24:37-39).

The people who today accept Jesus Christ as God's ark of safety and trust in His death for their sins on the cross as God's promise of escape from wrath will be removed from earth before the Age of the Apocalypse begins (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5; Revelation 3:9,10). Their lives until that time may be full of tribulations, but they will be supported by a confidence in the Lord's strength and salvation for every trial. And believers' lives after that time will consist of unending joy and pleasure in the Lord's presence (Psalm 16:11; Revelation 21:4; 22:3-5).

But for those reading these words who have never believed the warning of the apocalypse nor fled to Christ for refuge, your lives will be lived (for however long you can endure) in the darkest days of the tribulation.

Some people may feel that tribulation warnings are scare tactics used to frighten people to faith, but each person must first come to understand the wrath of God that he deserves before he can accept the love of God, which he does not deserve. The Scriptures reveal that God Himself became a man (Jesus Christ) and He was made subject to His own wrath so that He "might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:15). Therefore, in order to warn us of our imminent end and give us an opportunity to escape the wrath to come, God has made the message clear: "Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him" (Hebrews 9:27,28). According to this promise, Christ came once to die for sinners and will return to judge them. Those who fear this judgment and flee to Him in faith will find the rest of that promise: that their horror of His coming will have been replaced by a hope in His coming.

So, my friend, what will your life be like in the Age of Apocalypse? These days have now been described for you; will you not seek God's salvation while the door of His ark remains open? Now is the time to escape the tribulation that is coming. Christ is coming... are you going with Him?