End Times

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I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Pastor John MacArthur and Grace to You, without whom this article would not be possible. I borrowed heavily from several of his archived sermons in gathering this information, especially his series on the Book of Daniel, the Book of Zechariah, and the Book of Revelation.

Eschatology is the study of end times, and it seeks to answer questions like, “What will the end of the world be like?” Here’s a basic timeline of the main topics:

  1. Church Age – This is the time period in which we currently live (from the Day of Pentecost in 33 AD until the Rapture).
  2. Rapture – This is the future event in which all born-again Christians will be removed from the Earth before the Tribulation, and it marks the end of the Church Age.
  3. Judgement Seat of Christ – This is the future event in which all Christians will stand before the throne of Jesus to receive rewards for our good works.
  4. Tribulation – This is the future seven-year period of God’s wrath that culminates in Jesus’ Second Coming.
  5. Second Coming – This is the future return of Jesus Christ to punish unbelievers and establish His Millennial Kingdom on Earth.
  6. Millennial Kingdom – This is the future 1,000-year period during which Jesus Christ will reign visibly on Earth.
  7. Great White Throne Judgement – This is the final judgement where all unbelievers will be cast into Hell forever.
  8. New Heaven and New Earth – This is the final restoration of the universe to perfection.

Church Age

The Bible doesn’t refer to a Church Age as such because the New Testament Church, which was established on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), was a mystery kept hidden from Old Testament prophets (Ephesians 3:4-11 and Romans 16:25-26).

It’s clear that the Church Age was a mystery to the twelve apostles as well (Luke 9:45 and Luke 18:34). Like most Jews at the time (John 12:34 and Luke 19:11), they were expecting the Messiah to show up and immediately deliver them from their Roman oppressors. As soon as the apostles realized that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16), they believed that He was about to establish His earthly kingdom (Matthew 16:21-22, Matthew 17:10, and Mark 10:35-37). Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles were still expecting Him to give the Promised Land back to the Jews (Acts 1:6).

I don’t fault the apostles for believing that Jesus was there to establish His kingdom; after all, consider the following prophecies. Although Jesus fulfilled enough Messianic prophecies to establish His identity beyond a shadow of a doubt, He won’t fulfill these remaining prophecies until His Second Coming.

  • “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:17)
  • “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:8-9)
  • “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. I will clothe his enemies with shame, but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown.” (Psalm 132:17-18)
  • “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
  • “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10)
  • “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)
  • “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
  • “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
  • “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

The whole reason a Church Age exists at all is because of Israel’s transgressions and unbelief (Romans 11:11 and Romans 11:20). Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make the Jews envious and hopefully save some of them (Romans 11:14). The Church Age will continue until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25), at which point, the Rapture will occur and God will resume working with Israel.

Rapture

The Rapture is another term that is not found in the Bible, and it is a relatively new doctrine in Christianity. For most of Church history, the Rapture and the Second Coming were considered one and the same, and it wasn’t until the 1800s that the concept of the Rapture became widely taught. However, I believe that there is strong scriptural support that the Rapture and the Second Coming are not the same thing.

Description of the Rapture

The Rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Jesus will descend from Heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with a loud trumpet blast. The bodies of dead Christians will be resurrected in a glorified state and reunited with their spirits, and then the Christians who are still alive will be changed instantaneously to receive their glorified bodies. Finally, all Christians will be taken up, body and soul, to meet Jesus in the clouds.

The idea of the Rapture is backed up by the words of the apostle James: “Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.’” (Acts 15:14-16) James is saying that after God removes the Church from the Earth in the Rapture, He will resume working with the nation of Israel.

The apostle Paul echoes this same idea in Romans 11 when he explains how the nation of Israel was broken off from the tree of blessing due to their unbelief and the Church has been grafted in. He says, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25) Paul is saying that God won’t resume working with the nation of Israel as a whole until He saves the last Christian of the Church Age.

Incidentally, the Greek word for Church (ekklésia) comes from the words ek, which means “out from,” and kaleó, which means “to call or summon.” In other words, ekklésia literally means “the called out ones” or “those who are called out.” Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the group of people known as “the called out ones” are the same ones who will be called out of the world before the Tribulation begins.

Also, the idea of people being taken up to Heaven without dying first is not without Biblical precedent. Both Enoch (Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12) were taken up to Heaven without dying first. Perhaps God included these details in the Bible to give us a preview of the Rapture.

Rapture versus Second Coming

Here are several ways in which the Rapture differs from the Second Coming:

  1. In the Rapture, believers will be going up into Heaven. But in the Second Coming, believers will be following Jesus down out of Heaven (Revelation 19:11-14).
    • In John 14:2-3, Jesus tells the apostles that He is going to prepare a place for them in God’s house and that He will come back to take them with Him. He wouldn’t prepare a dwelling place if they were just going to fly up and fly right back down during the Second Coming.
  2. The Rapture will occur prior to the Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10), and the Second Coming will occur afterward.
    • The apostles had a clear expectation about the imminence of Christ’s return. They were not expecting to die first before seeing Jesus, and they were not expecting to suffer through all the events that must occur during the Tribulation before seeing Him.
    • In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul is using the description of the Rapture to encourage the Christians in Thessalonica. Then in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul encourages the Thessalonians by reminding them that they won’t have to endure the horrors of the Tribulation.
  3. The Rapture is an act of mercy to deliver Christians from the wrath of the Tribulation, but the Second Coming is an act of wrath to remove the ungodly from the Earth (Matthew 24:40-41).

Questions about the Rapture

  1. The description of the Rapture says that there a loud command. What will He shout?
    • Perhaps He will say, “Come up here” as He says to the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:12. God also calls up the apostle John into Heaven with the same phrase “Come up here.” (Revelation 4:1)
  2. When the Rapture occurs, will non-believers witness it?
    • The Bible teaches that we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, which probably means that no one will witness it.
    • The Rapture is described as a mystery, and it certainly would be a mystery if a bunch of people suddenly vanished—in fact it would probably start a global panic. However, that idea carries a built-in assumption that there will still be millions of Christians in the world when the Rapture occurs. What if the world has become so hostile by that time that there will hardly be any Christians left alive? Or what if most of the people who self-identify as Christians are actually not born-again Christians at all? After all, Jesus said that very few people will actually end up in Heaven (Matthew 7:13-14). It’s possible that so few real Christians will be in the world when the Rapture occurs that no one will even notice when they’re taken.
    • Even if unbelievers witnessed something during the Rapture, it would probably just seem to them like an abnormally bright flash of lightning and a loud thunderclap. I don’t think that unbelievers will see Jesus in His glory until He returns to judge the world. For example, after Jesus was resurrected, He wasn’t seen by anyone except believers (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Also, when God spoke aloud to answer Jesus in front of a crowd, the unbelievers just heard the sound of thunder (John 12:29). In addition, when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, his companions only saw a flash of blinding light and heard a sound, but they did not understand the voice (Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9).
  3. WIll airline pilots be taken away, leaving unbelieving passengers to die in a plane crash? Will Christian parents be taken away, orphaning their young children?
    • The Bible doesn’t give any of these details, hence the artistic license used in the Left Behind movies. However, we know that God can and does take young children into Heaven, so perhaps babies will be raptured away along with their parents. We also know that all have sinned and deserve God’s wrath. In fact, the entire point of the Tribulation is for God to pour out His wrath, so it would probably be merciful of Him to allow some unbelievers to die quickly in a plane crash rather than face the multitude of plagues and terrors that will be unleashed during the Tribulation.
  4. When will the Rapture occur?
    • This question is answered five times in the final chapter of the Bible (Revelation 22), including the last words spoken by Jesus: “Surely I am coming soon.” However, almost 2,000 years have passed since the Book of Revelation was written, so was Jesus mistaken? First, the Greek word for soon (tachu) doesn’t mean immediately but rather without unnecessary delay. Second, the reason that Jesus hasn’t returned yet is because of His mercy. He is patiently waiting until all of the elect can be saved before He returns again in wrath and judgement (2 Peter 3:9).
  5. Why didn’t Jesus tell us that it would be at least a couple thousand years before His return?
    • God purposefully avoids giving us a specific date for the Rapture, because He wants us to focus on its imminence. God wants us to wake up every day with hopeful expectation (Titus 2:13) that today could be the day of the Rapture. That hope is what will encourage us to continue preaching the Gospel and doing good works despite our suffering. The Thessalonians were so thoroughly convinced of the imminence of the Rapture that they thought they had already missed it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
  6. Did God give us any signs warning us when the Rapture will occur?
    • Yes, in the Last Days there will be scoffers who will mock Christianity and the Bible, claiming that all things continue as they always have since the beginning (2 Peter 3:3-4). The apostle Paul warns that there “will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
    • All of these signs perfectly describe the world today, and yet none of them is specific enough to predict a date for the Rapture. The term Last Days doesn’t narrow it down either since it refers the entire interadvental period between Christ’s First and Second Coming, including both the Church Age and the Tribulation (Acts 2:16-17, Hebrews 1:2, and 1 John 2:18). It seems that God intentionally avoided specific signs because He wants us to be ready at all times. That means we must have a sense of urgency about sharing the Gospel, about doing good works, and about growing in holiness.

Rapture in relation to Tribulation

Even among Christians who believe in the Rapture, there is some disagreement about when it will occur relative to the 7-year Tribulation. I believe in a pre-Tribulation Rapture, but others believe in a mid-Tribulation Rapture or a post-Tribulation Rapture. Here are my reasons for arguing that the Rapture must occur before the 7-year Tribulation:

  1. God decreed a period of Seventy Sevens (490 years x 360 days each = 176,400 days) for both the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem “to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.” (Daniel 9:24) There is no mention of the Church here, because it didn’t even exist at the time this prophecy was given.
    • The countdown began in 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1) with the decree of King Artaxerxes to rebuild the city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:5-8).
    • The first 49-year period (17,640 days) was completed when the city of Jerusalem was fully rebuilt, both inside and out, during a time of trouble (Nehemiah 1:3 and Daniel 9:25) and the Old Testament canon was closed with the final book of Malachi.
    • The next period of 434 years (156,240 days) lasted until Palm Sunday of Passion Week (Sunday, March 29, AD 33 thanks to the detailed work of researchers like Sir Robert Anderson and Dr. Harold Hoehner). Miraculously, this was the exact date of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when He was hailed as the Messiah and the Ruler (Daniel 9:25, Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38, and John 12:13).
    • Note that Daniel 9:26 says that it is only after the 483 years are over that the Messiah will be cut off (i.e. executed like a common criminal). This simple preposition introduces a pause between the first 483 years and the final 7-year period that begins when the Antichrist signs a covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27). This pause represents the Church Age, and the 7-year Tribulation will not come until the Church Age has ended with the Rapture.
  2. The horrors of the Tribulation are referred to as “a time of trouble for Jacob.” (Jeremiah 30:7) The Church has never replaced Israel as God’s chosen people, or else God’s promises to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-19) would be broken. Therefore, Jacob cannot refer to the Church. Also, when Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 that He will build His Church on the rock of Peter’s confession, notice that He doesn’t say that He will add to His Church. He is introducing something brand new that had not previously existed.
  3. As you read the book of Revelation and walk through the events of the Tribulation, the Church is never mentioned, but Israel is clearly identified (Revelation 7:4). Also, Jesus makes it clear that only unbelievers will be subjected to the Tribulation while Christians will be saved out of it (Revelation 2:22 and Revelation 3:10).
  4. Right after describing the Rapture, Paul writes about the Tribulation being a day of destruction (1 Thessalonians 5:3). A few verses later, Paul says that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9) Scripture makes it clear that the purpose of the Tribulation is for God to pour out His wrath against all nations (Matthew 24:21, Isaiah 13:9, Zephaniah 1:15, and Revelation 6:17), and it wouldn’t make sense for the Church to be present during the day of wrath if God did not appoint the Church to suffer wrath.
  5. During the Tribulation, food and potable water will be in short supply (Revelation 6:6, Revelation 8:7-11, Revelation 11:6, and Revelation 16:3-4). If the Church were going to be present during the Tribulation, we should be stockpiling food and water for survival. Instead, Jesus tells us that our primary focus should be on sharing the Gospel and making disciples (Matthew 28:19).
  6. Some argue for a mid-Tribulation Rapture on the basis that God would still be rescuing the Church from all of the really terrifying events that occur in the Second Half of the Tribulation. However, the terrors of the First Half of the Tribulation are no cake walk either. We know that at least the first 5 seals occur before the Midpoint of the Tribulation, and those include world wars (Revelation 6:2), extreme famine (Revelation 6:6), earthquakes (Matthew 24:7), diseases (Revelation 6:8), and martyrdom (Revelation 6:9-11 and Matthew 24:9-10). A fourth of the Earth dies in these first plagues, which at today’s current population would amount to at least 1.9 billion people.
  7. At the Second Coming of Jesus, which occurs at the end of the 7-year Tribulation, the Church will return with Him (Revelation 19:14). If the Rapture occurred at the end of the Tribulation, then the Church would just fly up into the air and come right back down immediately. Not only does this idea sound ridiculous, but it also introduces some serious problems during the Millennial Kingdom: first, there won’t be anyone to give birth, and second, there won’t be anyone to rule over.
    • Paul’s description of the Rapture says that both the living and the dead in Christ will be taken up and given glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53). That means that any believers who managed to survive the horrors of the Tribulation would be given glorified bodies right before the Second Coming of Jesus.
    • Jesus teaches that there will be no marriage at the resurrection (Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25). That would imply that those who receive their glorified bodies will no longer engage in sexual intercourse nor procreation.
    • Jesus will kill any unbelievers who manage to survive the horrors of the Tribulation (Revelation 19:21 and Matthew 25:41-46), which means that only believers will enter the Millennial Kingdom.
    • If only glorified believers enter the Millennial Kingdom and they aren’t going to marry or have children, then how is it that Satan is able to gather a huge army of unbelievers at the end of the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:8)?
    • If only glorified people enter the Millennial Kingdom and they have already been made perfect (Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 11:40, and Hebrews 12:23), then why does Jesus say that all the saints of all the ages will be ruling with Him during the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:6 and Revelation 2:26-27)? You can’t have a bunch of perfect rulers who don’t sin and then have no one to rule over. You have to have some some people around who still sin occasionally because they haven’t yet been made perfect.

Judgement Seat of Christ

After the Church is removed from the Earth in the Rapture, Jesus will judge all Christians:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

The Greek word for judgement seat (béma) refers to a throne or seat of authority. However, since Christians are already guaranteed entrance into Heaven, this is not a judgement to determine our eternal destination, but rather to give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10). The word béma can also refer to an elevated dais or raised platform for someone who is being honored. For example, during the ancient Olympic games near Corinth, the victor would stand on the béma to receive recognition and praise for his performance. Similarly, we will be invited to climb the steps and kneel before the throne in Heaven, and Jesus Christ Himself will give us rewards based on our good works (Matthew 16:27, 1 Corinthians 3:8, Ephesians 6:7-8, Revelation 22:12 and Hebrews 6:10).

What type of reward will we receive? It will not be a monetary or material reward, for what good would those things do us in Heaven where all of our needs are met? Paul compares it to a prize for winning a race:

  • “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
  • “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

These crowns are the treasures in Heaven that Jesus describes in Matthew 6:20. Note that Paul uses the Greek word for a plaited wreath, a garland, or a crown of victory (stephanos) rather than the Greek word for a royal crown (diadéma). What a wonderful day that will be: your name will be called and you will step forward, you will ascend the steps to kneel before Christ, and Jesus Himself will place a victor’s crown upon your head to honor your good works. Keeping this thought in mind can help us to endure hardships for Christ’s sake.

In addition to a crown of righteousness and an imperishable crown, Scripture also speaks of a crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of life (James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10), and a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). What will we do with all of these crowns? We will fall down before the throne of Jesus, cast our crowns at His feet, and worship Him (Revelation 4:9-11).

So what sort of good works will earn these crowns? Not just any work, but only those works that are eternal:

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

Tribulation

Once the Church is removed from the Earth during the Rapture, the Tribulation will begin. However, before we move into the events of the Tribulation, we first need to study the background.

War in Heaven

At some point, a war breaks out in Heaven between angels, led by the archangel Michael, and demons, led by Satan (Revelation 12:7). Scripture isn’t clear about when exactly this war begins or how long it lasts. It’s possible that Satan and his demons attempt to block glorified Christians from ascending into Heaven during the Rapture and that Michael and the army of angels must clear the way. After all:

Satan loses the battle, and he and his demons are cast out of Heaven and down to Earth (Revelation 12:8-9). Although the Bible doesn’t say when this happens, it’s very likely that it happens right at the Midpoint of the Tribulation, but more on that point later.

Origin of the Antichrist

The first thing we’ll examine about the Antichrist is his origin, and we’ll begin our study with the prophet Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:

  1. The Babylonian empire was in power at the time of the dream, and that empire would be followed by an empire made up of two components. Indeed, the Medo-Persian empire consisted of the Medes and the Persians.
  2. The Medo-Persian empire would be followed by a larger and more powerful empire made up of two components (Greece). Indeed, after Alexander the Great’s death, although the empire was divided into four kingdoms, only two of them, the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire, controlled the vast majority of the territory and had the greatest influence on Jewish history.
  3. The Greek empire would be followed by an even stronger empire made up of two components. Indeed, Rome consisted of the Western Empire and the Eastern Empire.
  4. The Roman empire would not be replaced immediately by a conquering empire as the others had been. Instead it would go from being a strong and unified empire into a weaker 10-state federation. Indeed, Rome was never conquered decisively by a united foreign power, but rather it slowly collapsed over hundreds of years by a combination of moral decay, corruption, and repeated foreign invasions. Since there has never a time in history where the Roman empire was split into a 10-state confederacy, that means that this prophecy will be fulfilled at some point in the future.

The prophet’s own dream in Daniel 7 also describes the four great kingdoms, but it also gives us a bit more detail on the future 10-state confederacy mentioned in Daniel 2:

  1. The first kingdom is Babylon because the lion and the eagle are well-known images of Babylon. The wings are torn off just as King Nebuchadnezzar was driven insane (Daniel 4:33), but he was restored to his sanity and to his kingdom when he humbled himself before God (Daniel 4:36-37).
  2. The second kingdom is Medo-Persia because the three ribs in the bear’s mouth represent the three significant kingdoms conquered by the Persians: Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt. The bear is raised up on one of its sides because Cyrus the Great raised the Persians to become more dominant than the Medes during the empire’s rise to prominence.
  3. The third kingdom is Greece because a leopard with four wings represents Alexander the Great’s swift conquest of the entire known world. By the time of his premature death at age 32, his empire stretched from Egypt to India, and he named himself king of all the world. The beast has four heads because the Greek empire was divided up by four generals following Alexander’s death: Seleucus took Syria and the Middle East, Ptolemy took Egypt, Cassander took Greece and Macedonia, and Lysimachus took Thrace and Asia Minor.
  4. The fourth kingdom is Rome because it has iron teeth and ten horns, mirroring the sequence of Daniel 2. The ten horns represent ten kings or rulers who will arise out of the remains of the Roman empire, and the Antichrist will also arise from out of this revived Roman empire. Notice that Daniel gives no description of this beast, so it’s possible that it resembles a combination of the previous three beasts.

The apostle John also confirms that the Antichrist will arise out of a reborn Roman empire:

  1. During the Tribulation, a beast arises that is part leopard, part bear, and part lion and which has ten horns and seven heads (Revelation 13:1-2). The imagery here sounds exactly like the fourth empire and the fourth beast from Daniel’s earlier visions.
  2. The seven heads are seven hills (Revelation 17:9), which is an unmistakeable reference to Rome, especially in light of the sequence in Daniel’s prophecies.
  3. The seven heads are also seven kings, and at the time that John received this prophecy toward the end of the first century AD, five had already fallen, one was currently in power, and one was yet to come (Revelation 17:10).
    • We know that Rome was the kingdom currently in power at the time of John’s prophecy.
    • If we work backwards using Daniel’s prophecies as a guide, then we know at least three of the kingdoms that came before Rome: Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon.
    • All four of the kingdoms we know so far have two things in common: they were each among the largest and most powerful empires in the world during their height, and they each had a profound influence on the history of Israel. It’s reasonable to assume that the final two kingdoms also share those two features, so we can safely rule out both smaller enemies of Israel, such as Edom, Moab, and Ammon, as well as larger world empires that had no contact with Israel, such as those in East Asia, Southern Africa and the Americas. That leaves us with only two candidates: Egypt and Assyria.
  4. Notice that the seventh king will only remain for a short time, alluding to the 7-year Tribulation. Also, there will be an eighth king who belongs to the seven (Revelation 17:11). The sixth kingdom of Rome at one point encompassed territories previously held by Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Therefore, when it says that the eighth king belongs to the seven, that is confirmation that the eighth king will also arise from the revived Roman empire. I also believe that both the seventh and eighth kings refer to the Antichrist, but more on that point later.
  5. The ten horns are ten kings who will have a very short reign alongside the Antichrist, and their sole purpose will be to give their power and authority to the Antichrist (Revelation 17:12-13).

Finally, Daniel gives us another clue when he writes that after the Messiah is cut off, “the people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” (Daniel 9:26) Since it was the Roman army who conquered and razed both Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 AD, then we can assume that the Antichrist will also emerge from a revived Roman empire.

Character of the Antichrist

Now that we know the origin of the Antichrist, let’s examine his character:

  1. He will be a liar and someone who denies both God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son (1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:3, and 2 John 1:7).
  2. “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
  3. “He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods” (Daniel 11:36) and he “will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all.” (Daniel 11:37)
    • Clearly the Antichrist will have utter contempt for religion of any kind, whether Christian or non-Christian. He will be the worst blasphemer anyone has ever known, and he will be a narcissist and a megalomaniac with a god complex. His desire for everyone to worship him will be so extreme that he will view any religion as a personal insult.
    • The phrase “or for the one desired by women” is an extremely difficult one to interpret. Most likely this is just reiterating the Antichrist’s scorn for any kind of religion. Certainly that interpretation fits best within the immediate context, but here are the three most popular interpretations:
      • This phrase may just be another way of saying that the Antichrist will hate Jesus Christ, since the ultimate desire for any Jewish woman was to give birth to the Messiah.
      • This phrase may be making a specific reference to the pagan god Adonis. In Ezekiel 8:14, the prophet sees a vision of women mourning the god Tammuz. This is the only mention of Tammuz in all of Scripture, and most scholars believe that Tammuz is the Hebrew name for Adonis since Adonis sounds too much like Adonai (Lord), another term for the Hebrew God. According to the cult of Adonis, women were attracted to the god’s eternal youth and beauty, and they would commemorate his death by mourning and celebrate his resurrection with fertility rituals and orgies.
      • A less likely possibility is that this phrase is referring to the Antichrist’s general lack of interest in women. Perhaps he will remain unmarried, since marital duties would only serve as a distraction in his quest for power. Perhaps he will even remain chaste since his true lusts are himself and an insatiable appetite for power. Or perhaps this phrase means that he will be a homosexual, lacking the normal desire for women.
  4. He will be an idolater, and he will honor a god of war (Daniel 11:38) by spending vast amounts of money amassing an army and building an unstoppable military machine to secure his throne.
  5. He will be the man of lawlessness and the son of destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
    • The only other person that the Bible refers to as the son of perdition is Judas Iscariot (John 17:12) in case that gives you any concept of the moral character of the Antichrist.
  6. He will perform many displays of power through false signs and wonders and wicked deception (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10).
  7. He will possess great intelligence and keen insight (Daniel 7:8).
  8. He will possess a mouth that speaks boastfully (Daniel 7:11), but unlike many politicians the Antichrist will be able to do as he pleases (Daniel 11:36) since he will have supreme executive authority.
  9. He will have a humble beginning but that his authority will eventually eclipse that of the other 10 leaders who support him in his rise to power (Daniel 7:20).
  10. He will be the most extreme example of a Type A personality who has ever existed (Daniel 8:23). He will rule through threats and intimidation as well as through the overpowering dominance of his personality.
  11. He will be able to understand dark sentences or solve riddles (Daniel 8:23 ESV). This could refer to the fact that he will be a fantastic problem solver, which we already know. However, it could also mean that he has insight into demonic powers, that he practices occultism, and that he consults with mediums and spiritists.

Forerunner of the Antichrist

The Biblical description of the character and the origin of the Antichrist is so specific, that only one person will ever be able to fulfill all the prophecies. However, many people throughout history have embodied some of the characteristics of the Antichrist. Indeed, the Bible confirms that the Antichrist will be the last in a line of many antichrists (1 John 2:18), and it even even gives us two detailed prophecies about one of them in Daniel 8:9-14 and Daniel 11:21-35). A study of history reveals that these prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest”) of the Hellenistic Greek Seleucid dynasty:

  1. Antiochus had humble beginnings. Since he wasn’t in line for the throne, he had to steal it through intrigue.
    • He was the younger son of Antiochus III the Great, so his older brother Seleucus IV inherited the throne upon their father’s death. Seleucus’s older son Demetrius I Soter was the rightful heir, so Antiochus had no legitimate claim to the throne.
    • Antiochus, who was being held hostage by the Romans under the terms of a peace treaty, was exchanged for Seleucus’ son Demetrius.
    • Seleucus was assassinated by his own minister of finance, Heliodorus, who then seized the throne for himself.
    • Antiochus enlisted the aid of King Eumenes II of Pergamon to take back the throne from Heliodorus. Since Demetrius was still a hostage in Rome, Antiochus named himself co-regent with Seleucus’ infant son. A few years later, Antiochus decided to drop the facade and murdered his younger nephew to become sole ruler.
    • Antiochus bought the loyalty of his supporters. He maintained a stable power base by taxing regions like Judea and distributing the money among a powerful elite.
  2. Antiochus’ reign began with an immediate and resounding military victory over his biggest adversary, Ptolemaic Egypt. He eventually signed a peace agreement with Egypt.
    • Antiochus’ young nephew Ptolemy VI Philometer was king of Egypt at the time that Antiochus usurped the throne. Ptolemy’s regents made a foolhardy demand for the return of Coele-Syria (including Palestine, Israel, and Jerusalem) from Antiochus, which had been ceded to Antiochus’ father in a previous war.
    • Antiochus responded with a surprise attack on Egypt, conquering all but Alexandria within a year, as well as capturing Ptolemy.
    • Alexandria named Ptolemy’s younger brother as their new king and signed a peace treaty with Antiochus. In return, Antiochus withdrew his forces and left Ptolemy in charge of the rest of Egypt as a puppet king under his guardianship.
  3. Antiochus was particularly inconsiderate and disrespectful toward the Jews.
    • A few years after the start of Antiochus’ reign, he installed a corrupt man named Jason as the new High Priest in Jerusalem in exchange for regular tribute payments.
      • Jason immediately encouraged the Jews to abandon traditional Jewish customs and adopt Greek customs in violation of the Old Testament Law. He even installed a gymnasium at the foot of the Temple Mount so the young men could wrestle naked in full view of the Temple priests.
      • Eventually the priests abandoned their temple duties and joined in the wrestling as well. The Jews also abandoned the practice of circumcision, most likely because they wanted to look more like Greek men when they wrestled naked.
    • Later, Antiochus installed Menelaus, an even more corrupt man, as the a new High Priest named Menelaus in exchange for higher tribute payments.
      • Menelaus stole gold vessels from the Temple to make the tribute payments and order the murder of anyone who opposed him.
      • Some Jewish traditionalists rioted against these sacrilegious acts, but Menelaus was able to bribe royal officials to have the rioters unjustly executed.
    • On the way back from his victory in Egypt, Antiochus pillaged many of the sacred gold and silver articles from the Temple and murdered any Jews who stood in his way.
  4. Antiochus violated the peace treaty with Egypt and began a second campaign against Ptolemy, though it wasn’t as successful as the first due to the threat of the Roman navy.
    • After Antiochus’ withdrawal, Ptolemy joined forces with his younger brother, and they agreed to rule jointly rather than risk civil war. Antiochus, furious at losing control, launched a second assault on Egypt.
    • This time Antiochus attacked by both land and sea. He won victories at Cyprus and Memphis, allowing him to surround the capital city of Alexandria on all sides.
    • However, Egypt had managed to send envoys to Rome requesting assistance before the siege began. At the same time, Rome had finally defeated Perseus of Macedonia, which left no allies to protect Antiochus’ northern border.
    • With their repeated victories over Carthage, Rome had already established naval dominance in the Mediterranean, and they had a strategic interest in maintaining grain shipments from Egypt to feed their growing population.
    • Rome responded to Egypt’s pleas for help by sending ambassador Gaius Popillius Laenas to deliver an ultimatum to Antiochus: withdraw from Egypt and Cyprus immediately or Rome would declare war. This sudden intervention took Antiochus by surprise, and he agreed to their demands rather than risk war.
  5. Antiochus’ hatred for God and for the Jewish people was reignited following his retreat from Egypt.
    • A false rumor had started that Antiochus was killed during his second campaign in Egypt, so former High Priest Jason waged an unsuccessful coup against Menelaus.
    • Antiochus, already publicly humiliated by capitulating to Rome’s demands, heard about Jason’s failed coup and assumed that the Jews were attempting to win their independence while he was distracted.
    • In a rage, Antiochus’ army swept into Jerusalem and slaughtered more than 80,000 men, women, and children. He also desecrated the Temple and raided the Temple treasury.
    • In the aftermath of the massacre, Antiochus installed tyrannical governors to continue oppressing the Jews. He issued edicts forbidding anyone from following Jewish laws under penalty of death.
      • Jews were not allowed to honor Sabbaths and Festivals, they were forced to defile themselves by eating pork, and they were not allowed to perform the daily sacrifices but instead were required to sacrifice unclean animals on the sacred altar.
      • Any copies of the Old Testament Law were torn to pieces and burned, the sanctuary itself became a den of prostitution, and anyone who tried to practice Judaism in secret was burned to death.
      • The Jews were forced to erect a statue of Zeus in the Most Holy Place, and they were forced to march in parades in honor of Dionysus.
      • When any woman was found with a circumcised baby, the infant was killed and hung about the mother’s neck, and she was forced to march through the city until they threw her off the wall to her death.
      • Antiochus himself presided over several tortures and executions. The victims had their tongues cut out, their scalps cut off, and their hands and feet lopped off. After all that, they were fried to death in hot pans.
    • A small group of zealous Jews resisted their oppressors and were able to achieve an unlikely victory just before Antiochus’ death.
      • Judas Maccabeus led a group of orthodox Hasideans to engage in guerilla warfare against the generals that Antiochus sent to squash the rebellion.
      • Surprisingly, a number of Hellenistic Jews joined forces with Antiochus in an effort to put down the Maccabean revolt. However, the small Maccabean forces enjoyed repeated success despite the odds stacked against them.
      • After one such victory at the battle of Beth Zur in 164 BC, the Maccabean forces recaptured the Temple Mount. They chose blameless priests devoted to the Law, cleansed the Temple, reconsecrated the sanctuary and the courts, rebuilt the altar, and made new holy vessels.
      • On the 25th day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev (November – December), they reinstituted the daily sacrifice and offerings. They celebrated for eight days, and afterward they decreed that the whole nation of Israel should observe those days every year as part of the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22), known today as Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights.
      • The rededication of the Temple in 164 BC occurred exactly 2,300 days after the beginning of Antiochus’ atrocities against the Jews, and Antiochus died suddenly of disease that very same year.

The 144,000

Around the beginning of the Tribulation, God puts His seal upon 12,000 Jewish men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—144,000 in total (Revelation 7:3-9 and Revelation 14:1). They will be blameless and chaste (Revelation 14:4-5), and they will be offered as firstfruits to God. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved”, and so it seems that the 144,000 are the first wave of Jews who will worship Jesus as the Messiah.

The evangelism of the 144,000 will also lead to many Gentiles being saved (Revelation 7:9 and Revelation 7:14). I won’t call them Christians, since that term refers to people living during the Church Age. Instead, I will call them Tribulation saints, to make it clear that they are people who became born again during the Tribulation.

It’s clear that the 144,000 are devout Jews who lead holy lives, so undoubtedly they are very familiar with the Scriptures. Perhaps they will recognize the Antichrist’s treaty with Israel as a fulfillment of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy, and suddenly they will realize who Jesus is. At that time they will mourn for the one whom they pierced (Zechariah 12:10 and Amos 8:10), and they will begin preaching the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10).

Most likely God’s seal will not be a visible mark upon their foreheads, just as it wasn’t a visible mark in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 9:4). And just like in Ezekiel’s vision, God’s seal will protect the 144,000 from God’s wrath (Revelation 9:4). If we could see the mark, I imagine that it would say “HOLY TO THE LORD”, similar to the turban worn by the High Priest when he ministered in the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:36-38). Or it might be the sign of the cross because the word for “mark” in Ezekiel 9:4 is the Hebrew letter taw, which was drawn as a lowercase t or a cross in ancient Hebrew. Or it might be the name of God, the name of New Jerusalem, and the new name of Jesus (Revelation 3:12).

On a side note, some people go to rather extreme lengths to avoid a literal interpretation of the 144,000. For example, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Satan was cast out of Heaven in October of 1914, at which point Jesus became the undisputed king in Heaven reigning over the Earth. They teach that God has been selecting 144,000 faithful Christians since the days of the apostles, people like Paul and Timothy, to be resurrected and to reign with Jesus from the Heavenly Kingdom. Everyone else will go on to live in the Earthly Kingdom.

The text unambiguously refers to the actual tribes of Israel, and nowhere does it give any indication that these are symbolic names that carry a hidden meaning. In contrast, Revelation 12:1 begins with the phrase, “A great sign appeared in Heaven,” making it clear that the following verses are symbolic and should not be taken literally. The symbols used in the vision are common motifs that should be unmistakable to anyone who has read the Bible, and just to clear up any remaining ambiguity, the text goes on to define who the dragon is in Revelation 12:9. If the names of the twelve tribes comprising the 144,000 are supposed to by symbolic, where would we even go to find the interpretation?

One final point of interest is that the list of tribes includes Levi rather than Dan and Joseph rather than Ephraim. In the case of Dan, many scholars believe that they were excluded because of extreme idolatry (Deuteronomy 29:16-21, Judges 18:28-31, and 1 Kings 12:28-30). In Ephraim’s case, they are included but not named, perhaps because at one point they turned against the House of David (Isaiah 7:5-6). In the end, however, God is merciful and reinstates both tribes during the Millennial Kingdom (Ezekiel 48).

One World Religion

A defining characteristic of the Tribulation will be the existence of a final world religion. With the rise of Postmodernism in the West, it’s tempting to believe that the final form of religion will be a sort of Unitarian Universalist fellowship whose only rule will be acceptance of any and all beliefs. However, members of a such a patchwork religion like that would never unite behind a single global leader. Instead, I believe that Islam will be the final form of religion.

Islam is currently the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing religion, and Muslims have managed to keep their faith pure by resisting the popular practice of abandoning dogma for the sake of unity. The following are some end times predictions according to Islamic eschatology (credit to Joel Richardson’s book “Antichrist: Islam’s Awaited Messiah” and John MacArthur’s sermon “The Grim Reality of the Last Days”):

  1. A man referred to by the title Al-Mahdi, or The Guided One, will arise to usher in a golden age of Islam.
    • The Mahdi will be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
    • The Mahdi will establish a worldwide theocratic Caliphate, and he will slaughter anyone who does not convert to Islam and worship Allah as the one true God.
    • The Mahdi will come riding on a white horse to conquer the world, and everyone will be required to support him.
    • The Mahdi will command a vast army that will ultimately conquer Jerusalem. He will slaughter the Jews and establish his rule from the Temple Mount.
    • The Mahdi will rule with fairness and justice for seven years. He will distribute the spoils of war among the people so that there will be no more economic inequality.
    • The Mahdi will establish Islam on the Earth, and it will never again cease to be the one world religion.
    • The Mahdi will have miraculous powers over the wind, the rain, and the earth such that the land produces an abundance of food and resources for all people. As a result, all people will possess a deep love for him.
    • The Mahdi’s reign will begin when he signs a 7-year peace treaty with Romans (aka Christians or the Western world), and that peace accord will be mediated by a Jew from the lineage of Moses’ brother Aaron.
    • The Mahdi is called The Guided One because he will discover the original texts of the Old and New Testaments (before they were corrupted by Jews and Christians) as well the Ark of the Covenant containing the 2 stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. These discoveries will serve to correct the false teachings of Judaism and Christianity as well as to convert Jews and Christians to Islam.
  2. Since the whole world will practice Islam, people will develop marks of prostration on their foreheads. In other words, people will be bowing to the ground in fervent prayer five times daily, which will eventually create a callus or mark on the forehead.
  3. Isa (Jesus) was never crucified, and he was assumed into Heaven without dying. He is a mere human prophet rather than God in the flesh. When Isa comes again, he will descend from the clouds with angels. He will marry, have five children, and die after forty years.
    • Isa will not be the supreme leader. Instead He will publicly submit to the authority of the Mahdi.
    • Isa will be a devout Muslim, and he will be in charge of instituting and enforcing Islamic Shariah law across the world.
    • Isa will lead many Christians to become Muslims, but for those who refuse to convert, Isa will be a witness against them on the Day of Judgement.
    • Isa will lead the charge in ridding the world of crosses and any other non-Islamic religious symbols. He will oversee the abolishment of all other religions besides Islam. Isa will abolish the tax that non-Muslims must pay to remain unbelievers. Instead, their only options will be to convert to Islam or die.
    • Isa will kill a figure known as the Dajjal (Muslim equivalent of the Antichrist) as well as all his followers, who will be mostly Jews.
  4. Many deceivers and false prophets will arise claiming to be prophets of God, but the final one will be the most evil. This one will be the Dajjal (Antichrist), and he will claim to be the Messiah and God in human flesh.
    • The appearance of the first false prophets will coincide with the beginning of the Mahdi’s reign.
    • The first false prophets will claim to be paving the way for the Dajjal’s return.
    • The Dajjal will preside over the worst period of tribulation in human history. The Dajjal will lead many Jews and Christians away from Islam, and he will entice them into committing many heinous sins.
    • The appearance of the Dajjal will be preceded by a massive military conflict, where the Muslims conquer the Western world, as well as 3 years of extreme famine and drought.
    • The Dajjal will be accompanied by demons as well as sorcerers and magicians.
    • The Dajjal will ride on a donkey, and he will be ugly in appearance. He will heal the blind and the lepers.
    • The Muslim army will be deceived by false rumors of the Dajjal’s appearance before he actually appears.
    • When Isa descends from Heaven, he will defeat the Dajjal near the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
    • The recommended defenses against the Dajjal’s evil include: memorizing verses from the Quran, praying to Allah, and avoiding any contact with him.

It’s interesting that Islamic prophecies are very similar to Biblical prophecies except that the roles are reversed—the Biblical Antichrist becomes the hero of Islam while the Muslim Antichrist sounds remarkably like Jesus of the Bible. It’s also worth noting that the eastern half of the Roman Empire, out of which the Antichrist will come, lies within predominantly Muslim countries today.

The final world religion will be associated with the historic city of Babylon (Revelation 17:5, Revelation 17:18, and Zechariah 5:5-11), which was probably the location of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). As the people scattered from Babel, their idolatry spread with them, spawning pagan religions all around the globe. Therefore, it’s fitting that all the nations of the world will be gathered once again under a single false religion headquartered in Babylon (Revelation 17:15). This rebuilt Babylon will also be the capital city for the Antichrist’s political and economic empire (Revelation 18), and it sits on the banks of the Euphrates River in Iraq, where four powerful demons will be released from bondage during the Tribulation (Revelation 9:14-15).

Often people assume based on Revelation 17:9 that the final world religion will be the Catholic Church with the pope as the Antichrist. It’s true that the seven hills are a reference to Rome, but not to the Vatican City or the Holy See. It’s important to remember that the final world religion is represented by the woman in this vision, and the seven heads are not on the woman but on the beast, which represents both the person and the empire of the Antichrist.

The final world religion will have vast financial resources (Revelation 17:4), which it will use to control governments and garner public support (Revelation 17:2). The Antichrist will leverage the influence of this religious system in his rise to power. Eventually, the final religion will degenerate into a cult that worships the Antichrist as a god, and its followers will murder many Tribulation saints in their blind devotion (Revelation 17:6).

The False Prophet

The leader of the final world religion will be a man known as the False Prophet (Revelation 13:11 and Revelation 19:20). Here’s a brief description of him:

  1. The personality of the False Prophet stands in stark contrast to that of the Antichrist.
    • The Antichrist is depicted as a fearsome, nightmarish beast like a hydra or a chimera, while the False Prophet is described as a lamb.
    • The Antichrist will have an unyielding and forceful personality, while the False Prophet will possess a gentle, winsome personality.
    • The Antichrist will impose his will through dominance and intimidation, while the False Prophet will resort to persuasive arguments and subtle manipulation.
  2. Just like the Antichrist, the False Prophet will be empowered by demonic spirits (Revelation 16:13-14) and be able to perform signs and wonders to deceive people (Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22), including calling down fire from Heaven (Revelation 13:13).
    • Most likely this specific feat will be accomplished through the use of technological trickery rather than genuine sorcery, perhaps with the help of next-generation pyrotechnics and clever video editing. Lies and deception are more in keeping with Satan’s methods (John 8:44) than miraculous works.
  3. The False Prophet will be the most charismatic and persuasive orator that the world has ever known. His already charming personality will be supernaturally augmented, and modern technology will expand his reach. Everyone who hears his compelling arguments and alluring message will be under his spell, and he will quickly develop a global network of fanatical disciples.

Declaration of Peace

By the time of the Tribulation, people will be so weary from the constant turmoil of wars, both hot and cold (Matthew 24:6), that they will be willing to follow any leader who can bring peace. While Scripture doesn’t give us precise details about the Antichrist’s rise to power, we know that he will quickly establish himself as a champion for world peace (Revelation 6:2) and sign a seven-year treaty with Israel (Daniel 9:27) that marks the official beginning of the Tribulation.

At first glance, that may not sound like such a remarkable accomplishment considering that Israel has signed many treaties over the years, but notice that the verse in Daniel also refers to the Temple, which will be rebuilt during the Tribulation. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and two Islamic holy sites (the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) currently occupy the Temple Mount. Any attempt to rebuild the Temple would undoubtedly trigger a Muslim holy war, but perhaps the Antichrist is somehow able to pull it off as part of this treaty. A feat like that would put him head and shoulders above any world leader in terms of approval rating (Daniel 7:24) and make him an international hero.

Perhaps the False Prophet will assist the Antichrist by signing the treaty on behalf of Muslims. He may be attempting to improve the public’s perception of Islam by calling for peace between Jews and Muslims, and his participation in this historic event may spark a renewed interest in Islam around the world.

First Half of the Tribulation

It won’t be long into the Tribulation before a major world war breaks out (Revelation 6:4), and it will most likely result from Muslim hostility over the Antichrist’s peace treaty with Israel.

Within Islam, there has long been a struggle between Sunnis, who represent the majority, and Shia, who are primarily based in Iran. The Shiite clerics in Iran have made it clear that they believe Israel must be obliterated to clear the way for the return of the 12th Imam, the Shiite version of Al-Mahdi. Perhaps the Shia will see the treaty with Israel as a betrayal, triggering Iranian airstrikes against Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Iran would be backed by Russia and China, while Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel would be backed by NATO.

Although the Bible doesn’t say exactly what triggers the war, it’s clear that the empire of the Antichrist will be one of those under attack (Daniel 11:40). Perhaps Russia will use its alliance with Iran as a pretext for invading from the north, while a coalition of African nations will advance from the south. The Antichrist will achieve remarkable military victories, defeating Egypt and the North African states (Daniel 11:41-43), but the war will disrupt the global economy, resulting in skyrocketing commodities prices and severe famine (Revelation 6:6). Over a fourth of the world’s population, 1.9 billion people based on today’s numbers, will die as a result of the wars and the famine and plague that will inevitably follow (Revelation 6:8).

Besides the bloodshed of war, there will also be the bloodshed from the martyrdom of Tribulation saints (Revelation 6:9-11 and Matthew 24:9). Apparently, some wise people will begin to search the Scriptures for answers after the Rapture (Daniel 12:4 and Daniel 12:10), and they will immediately recognize the Antichrist when he signs the 7-year peace treaty with Israel. They will begin speaking out against him and earnestly preaching the Gospel, resulting in additional converts to Biblical Christianity.

However, the majority of the world will be under such a powerful delusion (2 Thessalonians 2:11) that they will construe these warnings to repent as personal attacks. The False Prophet’s inflammatory rhetoric will add fuel to the fire. He will blame Tribulation saints for the problems in society, and he will declare a jihad against these “fearmongers.” The zealous followers of the False Prophet and the Antichrist will rationalize the murder of many innocent saints in their misguided attempts to eliminate hate speech and achieve world peace.

Right before the midpoint of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will be hitting his stride: he will be the undisputed leader of the most powerful empire the world has ever known, his public opinion will be at an all-time high, and he will be celebrating a string of military victories against some of the most powerful nations in the world. The Antichrist may decide to solidify his position as world dictator by dividing up the world into ten kingdoms, or zones, and installing ten of his most loyal supporters as puppet kings (Revelation 17:12). This setup would give the illusion of democracy, but in reality the coalition of nations would just do the bidding of the Antichrist (Revelation 17:13).

Once the Antichrist has cleared the field of rivals, he will begin distributing plunder among his most loyal supporters (Daniel 11:39), when suddenly he will be mortally wounded (Revelation 13:3 and Revelation 13:12). The cause of this mortal wound will be serious enough to convince the whole world that the Antichrist is dead, but he will amaze everyone with his miraculous recovery. To be clear, I do not believe that the Antichrist will actually die from this fatal wound, because Satan does not have the power to resurrect anyone from the dead. Also, remember that the Antichrist’s coming will be in accordance with how Satan works: he will employ lies, deception, and false signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

I believe that the Antichrist will indeed suffer a traumatic injury, one that would kill most people. For example, maybe a suicide bomber will detonate close enough to him that shrapnel pierces his brain, which forces doctors to induce a coma to relieve brain swelling. Maybe the Antichrist will even suffer cardiac arrest a couple of times during brain surgery, so he will be clinically dead, though not dead in the sense that his spirit leaves his body. Perhaps the doctors will say that the Antichrist should be dead based upon where the shrapnel rests in his brain, but he will somehow survive surgery and come out of the coma without any ill effects—at least not any visible ones.

It’s possible that Zechariah 11:17 may refer to this injury when it says that a sword will strike the foolish, worthless shepherd (the Antichrist), withering his arm and blinding his right eye. There is certainly some figurative language being used here, so it could mean that this false shepherd will lose his power and his intelligence in a war. However, it’s also possible that the language contains a literal element as well, in which case the Antichrist may spend the rest of his life with a disabled arm and a blind eye.

Midpoint of the Tribulation

As I mentioned earlier, the War in Heaven will probably break out right after the Rapture and continue throughout the First Half of the Tribulation. Then, just before the Midpoint of the Tribulation, Satan’s demonic army will be defeated, and they will be cast out of Heaven for good (Revelation 12:8-9). Once this happens, Satan will realize that he only has a short time left, and with great fury he will shift his quest for world domination into overdrive (Revelation 12:12). This is bad news for the people on Earth because suddenly the number of demons running around will increase dramatically, and they’ll have nothing else to do but torment humans.

Also, the Holy Spirit will remove His restraining power from the Earth around this time (2 Thessalonians 2:7), giving Satan free reign. As a result, the Antichrist will be revived from his near-death experience under total demonic possession (Revelation 17:8). The removal of the Holy Spirit’s restraining power will also open the door for the Antichrist to reveal his demonic nature by committing the abomination that causes desolation (Matthew 24:15), an act which will occur at the exact Midpoint of the Tribulation.

Most likely, the Antichrist will greatly exaggerate the details surrounding his near-death experience. For example, he may tell everyone that he had a vision in which he received confirmation that Islam is the one true religion. He will even proclaim himself to be god (2 Thessalonians 2:4), citing his death and resurrection as proof.

The Antichrist will probably also frame the Jews for the attempt on his life, claiming that it was a conspiracy perpetrated by the nation of Israel in violation of the peace treaty. In a diabolical rage, he will invade Israel (Daniel 11:41) and totally overrun their defenses, even conquering Jerusalem (Daniel 11:45). Then, he will blaspheme the God of the Bible (Revelation 13:6), abolish the sacrificial system (Daniel 7:25 and Daniel 9:27), and desecrate the Temple sanctuary, possibly by setting up a statue of himself (Mark 13:14). Many Jews will be slaughtered, and those who surrender will probably be placed in internment camps.

However, there will also be many Jews who heed the warning signs and flee Jerusalem to a place in the wilderness where God will protect them and sustain them throughout the Second Half of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:16-21, Revelation 12:6, and Revelation 12:14). I don’t believe that those fleeing Jerusalem into the wilderness will be the 144,000 because the context of Revelation 7 suggests that the mission of the 144,000 is to preach the Gospel message to all nations. Also, Revelation 14:4 makes it clear that the 144,000 are exclusively men, and I believe that the Jewish remnant that God will shelter in the wilderness will need to marry and procreate during the Millennial Kingdom.

Scripture gives us a big hint regarding the location of the wilderness when Daniel 11:41 tells us that the tiny kingdoms of Edom, Moab, and Ammon will be delivered from the Antichrist. Why would God bother to shield those tiny Arab nations from the Antichrist unless they were sheltering the Jewish refugees? Note that these kingdoms are located just East of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, within 50-100 miles of Jerusalem. Some people believe that the ancient ruins of Petra, Jordan will be the future hideout for the Jewish remnant due to its naturally defensible position, but who needs natural defenses when you’ve got divine protection? For example, when the Antichrist’s army pursues the Jews into the wilderness (Revelation 12:15), the ground will open up to swallow the pursuing forces (Revelation 12:16).

The Antichrist will demand that the whole world must worship him, and the False Prophet will be his biggest advocate, even overseeing the creation of an image in honor of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:14-15). This image will have the power to speak, and the False Prophet will execute anyone who refuses to worship it.

It may be that this image is the same statue that the Antichrist sets up in the Jewish Temple. Perhaps the statue’s appearance is so striking and its location in the Holy Sanctuary is so inspiring for Muslims, that it becomes a world-famous icon. If that’s true, then it’s not hard to imagine the False Prophet including that image in regular broadcasts around the world. For example, in many Muslim countries today they recite the call to prayer over loudspeakers five times a day. Maybe the False Prophet will replace that practice by sending a broadcast to any video device around the world with the famous image of the Antichrist and a modified call to worship him. Security cameras, drones, and recording devices are already commonplace, so it wouldn’t be hard for the False Prophet to monitor participation and execute violators. In any case, the False Prophet’s ministry will be successful and most of the world will worship the Antichrist (Revelation 13:4 and Revelation 13:8).

While many devout Jews in Jerusalem will flee to safety, two zealous men will remain to preach the Gospel for the entire Second Half of the Tribulation (Revelation 11:3-5). Here’s a description of these Two Witnesses:

  1. They will have the supernatural ability to prevent it from raining during their entire three-and-a-half-year ministry.
    • It’s possible that they are only preventing it from raining in the local region where they are preaching, but it’s equally possible that they are preventing it from raining anywhere on the entire Earth during that time.
  2. They will also have the supernatural abilities to turn the waters of the Earth into blood and “to strike the Earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.”
    • These guys will not be popular. Without a doubt, the Antichrist and the False Prophet will do all they can to silence them, but they will not succeed.
  3. If anyone tries to hurt or kill them, fire will come out of the mouths of the Two Witnesses and burn their attackers to death.
    • Since the Antichrist and the False Prophet won’t be able to silence the Two WItnesses, they will simply counter their preaching with biased media coverage.
  4. Who are these Two Witnesses?
    • We can’t be dogmatic about their identities, but it is possible that they are Moses and Elijah for several reasons:
      • They perform miracles reminiscent of the miracles performed by Moses (Exodus 7:20) and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1, 1 Kings 18:36-38, Luke 4:25, and James 5:17). For example, Moses was able to turn the waters of Egypt into blood as well as send many types of plagues upon the Egyptians. Similarly, Elijah was able to hold back rain in Israel for three and a half years.
      • Together they represent the Law and the Prophets. In other words, they embody the entire Old Testament, including all the prophecies about the coming Messiah.
      • They both appeared at the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, and Luke 9:30), which was a preview of the Second Coming of Jesus.
      • The Jews have long expected a Prophet like Moses and the return of Elijah prior to the Messiah’s coming (Deuteronomy 18:18, Malachi 4:5, and John 1:21).
      • Elijah was taken up to Heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11), and God seemed to have a special need for the body of Moses (Jude 1:9).
    • It’s also possible that they could be Enoch and Elijah.
    • There’s even a good possibility that they could be ordinary men who preach in the same way as Moses and Elijah, similar to how John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah (Matthew 11:14, Matthew 17:11-13, and Luke 1:17).

Second Half of the Tribulation

The Second Half of the Tribulation is also known as the Great Tribulation. During this time, the Antichrist will become a completely different person, full of unbridled hate and pure evil. He will continue to work toward greater unity and world peace, but now he will use force rather than diplomacy to achieve his goal. He will take every opportunity to reinforce the idea that he is the one true god, and he will speak nonstop blasphemies against the God of the Bible (Daniel 11:36-37). He will have an unquenchable thirst for power, and he will be obsessed with crushing any potential rivals (Daniel 11:39).

The False Prophet will be a different person as well—no longer just an affable religious leader, but now the very mouthpiece of Satan. He will be the Antichrist’s biggest cheerleader, and he will saturate the media with his propaganda. He will also be the Antichrist’s trustworthy executioner, inciting mob violence against anyone who dares to question his claims of deity.

The False Prophet will concoct an ingenious plot to force everyone to pledge allegiance to the Antichrist. He will require anyone engaging in commerce to receive a mark on his or her right hand or forehead to prove their loyalty to the Antichrist (Revelation 13:16-18). Here are a few thoughts about this symbol:

  1. People usually refer to it as the Mark of the Beast because it will be a mark identified with the Antichrist (the first beast out of the sea), either his name or his number.
  2. This scheme will have a devastating effect on the Tribulation saints, who will refuse to receive the mark. They will either die of starvation since they will be unable to buy food, or they will be branded as traitors and executed for treason. However, the consequences will be even more severe for anyone who does receive the mark:
    • “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’” (Revelation 14:9-11)
  3. The Number of the Beast will be 666, meaning that it will somehow be associated with the Antichrist.
    • Many people over the years have devised various methods to prove that someone was the Antichrist, but it’s a fruitless task. The identity of the Antichrist and this number’s connection to him won’t be obvious to anyone except those who are alive during the Tribulation.
      • The most famous example of this type of guesswork involved Adolf Hitler. People took the English alphabet and assigned 100 to A, 101 to B, and so on, proving that the letters in Hitler add up to 666. Of course it’s obvious now that he could not have been the final Antichrist.
      • Preterists claim that Nero Caesar was the Antichrist because the Hebrew letters for Nero Caesar add up to 666. It’s true that people had to use his name and image to buy and sell, since they were inscribed on Roman coins. It’s also interesting that Nero was the sixth and currently reigning Caesar (if the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation around to AD 63) and that the Caesar who succeeded Nero (Galba) had a very short reign (Revelation 17:10). However, we know that Nero could not have been the Antichrist because he didn’t make a 7-year treaty with Israel (Daniel 9:27), he didn’t set up an abomination that causes desolation in the Jewish Temple, and he wasn’t defeated during the Second Coming of Jesus (Revelation 19:20).
    • This number 666 is referred to as man’s number because it is the number of imperfection and incompleteness. God’s number is 7, and it is the number of perfection and completeness.
      • God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh day. Under the Mosaic Covenant, slaves would work for six years and then go free in the seventh year. Likewise, farmers would work their fields for six years and let them lie fallow every seventh year. Also, all debts would be forgiven every seventh year. The Israelites marched around the city of Jericho once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day with seven priests blowing horns to bring down the mighty walls.
      • The number 6 is repeated three times in a row as an allusion to the Unholy Trinity of Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet, which is itself a mockery of the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
  4. What will the Mark of the Beast look like?
    • It’s possible that the Mark of the Beast will be an indelible tattoo or brand.
      • Tattoos, piercings, cuttings, and body modification were a common part of pagan rituals, which is one reason why God prohibited them under the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 19:28). Therefore, it would be fitting for False Prophet to revive this practice as part of the final world religion.
      • The advantage of requiring a visible mark is that it would make it easier to identify and execute Tribulation saints for not worshipping the Antichrist.
    • Given modern technology, it’s also possible that the Mark of the Beast will be invisible.
      • Some people have suggested that the Number of the Beast could be tied to a bar code or UPC symbol. A mark like that could be printed on someone either in microscopic size or using ink that only shows up under ultraviolet light, like a blacklight.
      • Others have suggested that the Number of the Beast could be tied to a microchip or an RFID tag that gets implanted under the skin. The advantage with this method is that it would make tracking and surveillance easier.
    • Some commentators argue that this mark is figurative rather than literal, but I do not agree.
      • They claim that having the Mark of the Beast on your forehead or your hand just means that your thoughts and actions are sinful. However, people already behave sinfully today, and the mark is described as something that take place in the future. Why would God describe a specific number that requires wisdom to understand unless it was something unique?
      • Also, I’m not sure how the False Prophet could check whether someone carried the mark upon them before allowing them to engage in commerce. Would he require them to kill an innocent bystander each time just to prove their loyalty? That hardly seems practical.

The relentless persecution of Jews and Tribulation saints will have a chilling effect on the spread of the Gospel. The 144,000 will be constantly on the run to avoid the authorities, and anyone that does get saved will be killed by angry mobs as soon as they share their testimony. Even the preaching of the Two Witnesses, which will be accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders, will only have a localized impact due to the lies spread in the media.

However, God is sovereign, and His desire is for all people to hear the Gospel (Matthew 24:14) to prove that their rejection of Him is not due to ignorance but because of their love of sin (Romans 1). Therefore, He will send an angel to fly across the skies and proclaim the Gospel for everyone to hear (Revelation 14:6-7). No one will be able to silence him, and no one will be able to avoid hearing the good news. No doubt God will even open the ears of the deaf to ensure that they too will hear his message. It’s unclear as to when the angel actually begins preaching and for how long, but I believe that it probably continues throughout the entire Second Half of the Tribulation while God is pouring out His final judgements.

By this point in the Tribulation, the world will have already suffered the effects of multiple wars, including the inevitable famine and plagues that result. Add to that the ministry of the Two Witnesses, who will cause a three-and-a-half-year drought, turn waters into blood, and inflict plagues of every kind. On top of all that, God sends natural disasters in such force that this will be by far the worst era in human history. Here’s a walkthrough of these disasters in the order they occur:

  1. Massive tremors will occur, and the shockwaves will move every mountain and island out of its place. However, it will not be a natural earthquake because it will actually be the entire universe that’s shaking (Revelation 6:12-14, Haggai 2:6, Isaiah 13:13, and Hebrews 12:26). At the same time, the sun will turn black, the moon will turn blood red, the stars will disappear from the sky, and fiery meteors will strike the Earth (Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 34:4, Joel 2:31, and Matthew 24:29).
    • We can’t be sure exactly when this event occurs during the Second Half of the Tribulation—it may not occur until a year or more after the Midpoint.
    • Everyone will be disoriented because the natural lights marking the passing of day and night and the months and the seasons and the years will suddenly vanish. This situation will be temporary, however, since some of the later disasters also cause changes to the heavenly lights.
      • Most likely the sun, the moon, and the stars don’t actually stop shining, but are just obscured by smoke and gas. Dr. Henry Morris believes that perhaps the unstable crust of the Earth will shatter due to the unprecedented shaking of the universe. As a result, a torrent of volcanic ash would be belched out into the atmosphere, blocking out all light.
    • WIthout any light, the plants on the Earth will soon die, exacerbating the already extreme famine. There will probably also be an increase of extreme weather events.
    • The most brilliant scientific minds in the world, all the meteorologists, seismologists, astrophysicists, climatologists, and geologists, won’t have a clue how or why any of this happened. In a single moment, all of their foundational theories, certain predictions, and uniformitarian assumptions will be shattered as the stability, reliability, and predictability of the universe will come to a screeching halt.
    • These events will be so unusual and so inexplicable that all the atheists, agnostics, and pastafarians will have to admit that the Bible was right all along. Unfortunately for them, their sudden epiphany won’t lead to a spiritual rebirth. Their mocking attitude will be replaced with such mortal terror that they will cry out for the mountains and rocks to shield them from God’s wrath (Revelation 6:15-17 and Isaiah 2:19). Some of them will literally drop dead from fear, their hearts failing them (Luke 21:25-26).
  2. There will be complete silence in the skies and no wind upon the Earth for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1). The silence will be followed by a sudden hail of holy fire descending upon the Earth and then thunder, lightning, and more shaking (Revelation 8:5).
    • It’s possible that the silence mentioned here is only figurative, but I don’t think so. I think it will serve as a brief break in the action to give people a chance to repent before the next final wave of destruction hits them.
    • It’s possible that the rain of fire will be another meteor shower, but all of these disasters have been supernatural so far, so I see no reason why the fire can’t have a divine origin as well.
  3. A mixture of hail, fire, and blood will rain down (Revelation 8:7), burning up a third of the soil, a third of the trees, and all of the grass upon the Earth.
    • Maybe things are burning up due to the extreme drought conditions. This disaster will decrease the already dwindling food supply.
  4. An immense meteor or asteroid will burn through the atmosphere and smash into the ocean (Revelation 8:8-9), turning a third of the sea into blood, killing a third of the sea life, and sinking a third of the ships.
    • It’s possible that the sea turning into blood is what will kill the sea life, but it’s also possible that the explosive impact will kill so many creatures that the sea will be thick with blood. The blood could also be figurative where a red tide caused by an algae bloom depletes all the oxygen in the ocean, creating a dead zone that suffocates all the fish.
    • Certainly an impact of such force and magnitude would vaporize anything at ground zero and boil anything within the blast radius. It would also trigger a tsunami that would obliterate any low-lying coastal life nearby.
  5. A fiery comet will explode as it hits the atmosphere, shattering into a million tiny pieces (Revelation 8:10-11). These fragments will end up in the freshwater supply, poisoning a third of the rivers and springs and killing many people.
    • Comets are known to contain several toxic compounds including methanol, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde.
    • Note that this disaster occurs after the Two Witnesses have already been given the authority to turn the waters of the Earth into blood. A famine is bad enough, but a dwindling supply of potable water will lead to armed conflict as neighboring states seek to assert control over shared water resources.
  6. The luminosity of the sun, the moon, and the stars will decrease to about two-thirds strength (Revelation 8:12).
    • This event is temporary since later disasters affect the heavenly lights.
    • We know that the moon doesn’t emit its own light, but rather it reflects sunlight. Therefore, a decrease in the sun’s brilliance would have a corresponding effect on moonlight.
    • The complex physical processes involved in stellar fusion aren’t entirely understood. It may be that God reduces the mass or the volume of the sun and the stars, but somehow He will dim their light.
    • The dimming of the sunlight will also reduce the amount of heat it radiates, leading to severe weather and cold snaps across the globe.
  7. An eagle or vulture will shout a warning to all the people of the planet to repent before God’s final judgements strike the Earth (Revelation 8:13). After that, Satan will be given the key to the Abyss, the place of temporary imprisonment for the most vile and loathsome demons (Revelation 9:1-11, Luke 8:31, 1 Peter 3:19-20, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6). He will open the shaft of the Abyss and smoke will pour out, choking the sky and blocking out the sun. Then, out of the smoke will descend another army of demons, in addition to the ones that were kicked out of Heaven at the Midpoint of the Tribulation. These new demons will be given the power to torture all the nonbelievers on the Earth with horrible, excruciating pain for five months. The agony of this stinging pain will be so extreme that the people will beg for death, but it will not come.
    • The eagle or vulture mentioned here could be figurative, but I believe that it’s a literal talking bird. Wouldn’t you sit up and pay attention if you heard a talking bird warning about impending judgements? The point here is that God does not take pleasure in having to punish lawbreakers (Ezekiel 18:23 and Ezekiel 33:11), so He’s using any means necessary to encourage repentance. His desire is that all people would turn from their sin and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), so He inserts another break in the action to give everyone one more warning before unleashing the next round of punishment. I believe that anyone who will repent at this point will be spared the stinging torment that follows.
    • God allows Satan to have the entire demon army at his disposal, even those who have been incarcerated for thousands of years, so that He can demonstrate that Satan can never win no matter what the odds.
    • The smoke mentioned here could be figurative, but I believe that it’s a literal cloud, a thick black mixture of smoke and demons. Likewise, it’s possible that the demons will be invisible to humans since they are spirits, but I believe that the vision described here will be visible. I think that God will give these demons a terrifying, physical form so that people will not question their existence nor their supernatural origin. The description the Bible gives us is like something out of your worst nightmare:
      • The demons will take the form of locusts, except that they will resemble horses prepared for battle. Golden crowns will sit upon their heads, and they will have human faces with long flowing hair. They will have teeth like lions and tails like scorpions. They will wear iron breastplates, and the deafening sound of their wings will be like thunder.
    • The Bible says that these demonic locusts will not harm anyone who has the seal of God on their foreheads. Clearly that refers to the 144,000, but I also believe that it refers to all of the Tribulation saints. Why else would God send a talking bird to give everyone one last chance to repent before dispatching the demon horde?
      • Unlike with the 144,000, I think that God will allow natural disasters to affect the other Tribulation saints to test their faith. However, I don’t believe that God will unleash this demonic plague upon the Tribulation saints in a sadistic fashion.
      • God knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19), and during the Church Age He places His seal upon them when He puts His Holy Spirit within them (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, and Ephesians 4:30). He also writes His name upon them (Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 22:4).
      • Of course the Holy Spirit didn’t permanently indwell the Old Testament saints, so it’s possible that God won’t mark Tribulation saints (except for the 144,000) in the same way as He did during the Church Age.
  8. God will order the release of four more demons who have been bound in restraints at the Euphrates River for this very moment (Revelation 9:13-19). These four demon generals will command a vast army of millions upon millions of demons that will sweep across the Earth to kill a third of the population (2.5 billion people according to today’s numbers).
    • Similar to the last group of demons, God will give these demons a physical form that is described in nightmarish terms:
      • They will resemble mounted troops with the riders wearing red, blue, and yellow breastplates. The horses will have heads like lions and tails like snakes, and they will breath fire, smoke, and sulfur.
      • The serpent tails will inflict people with painful injuries, but it will be the threefold breath of the horses that actually kills people.
    • Sadly, the survivors of this demon onslaught will not turn to God in humility and repentance (Revelation 9:20). They won’t they cease worshipping the Antichrist or his image, and they won’t regret murdering God’s people.

Some Bible commentators argue that many of the plagues John writes about could be a first-century man’s attempt at describing twenty-first century technology. For example, maybe the huge mountain that crashes into the sea is an atomic bomb or a nuclear missile. Perhaps the fiery comet that breaks apart and poisons the water supply is an ICBM that contains a MIRV payload which spreads a chemical or biological agent across a wide area. Perhaps the demonic locusts and mounted troops are helicopters, drones, and mobile rocket launchers with incendiary payloads.

The biggest challenge that I see to that interpretation is this question: Why would God bother reserving a specific group of extra powerful and super evil demons only to be released at this hour if the instrument of judgement was just going to be man-made machines? It seems that God’s purpose in sending supernatural judgments will be to remove any and all doubt as to their divine origin. The goal will be to humble people and drive them to repentance so that they cry out to God for mercy before it’s too late and their fate is sealed forever. If people could just find scientific and natural explanations for all of these plagues, then they would just fear each other and modern technology rather than God’s wrath.

In the wake of back-to-back demonic onslaughts, the Two Witnesses will finally conclude their three and a half years of street preaching in Jerusalem, and the Antichrist will immediately have them murdered where they stand (Revelation 11:7). The people of the world will be so happy to be rid of the Two Witnesses and so impressed that the Antichrist was finally able to defeat them that they will refuse to bury the bodies (Revelation 11:8-10). Instead, they will set up a live video feed of the rotting corpses to gloat over them, and they will even send one another gifts in celebration.

After three and a half days, the Two Witnesses will suddenly come back to life and fly up to Heaven in a cloud, freaking out everyone who’s watching (Revelation 11:11-12). Immediately after that, a severe earthquake will strike Jerusalem, destroying a tenth of the city and killing seven thousand people (Revelation 11:13).

It’s interesting because the original Greek actually says that the names of 7,000 men will be killed in the earthquake, and the survivors will give glory to God. Therefore, it seems that this will be a very unusual and discriminating earthquake which will only affect certain people within the city. Perhaps there will be a large contingent of Jewish prisoners being held in concentration camps—those who don’t heed the warning signs and flee the city into the wilderness. Maybe these prisoners will listen to the Two Witnesses preaching the Gospel for years, but never repent. Then suddenly God will send an earthquake that kills the prison guards and unlocks all the doors, similar to Paul’s experience in Acts 16:26, and the survivors will immediately repent and become believers.

The 144,000 Jews who are still living among the nations will see the miraculous resurrection of the Two Witnesses as a sign that the fate of the world has been decided. They will abandon their preaching efforts and head for Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-16, Micah 4:6, Zechariah 2:6-7, and Revelation 18:4).

Following the earthquake in Jerusalem, there will be thunder, lightning, more shaking, and a severe hailstorm (Revelation 11:19). At this point, it will be nearing the end of the Tribulation, and the remaining judgements will come in a rapid-fire fashion. They may occur over a few hours or days, but certainly not over a period of more than a few months.

  1. All of those who have received the Mark of the Beast will be afflicted with loathsome, malignant, festering sores (Revelation 16:2).
    • This plague is very similar to the plague of boils that Moses sent upon the Egyptians (Exodus 9:8-12). You’ll notice some other similarities in the following plagues as well. Some people cite these similarities as evidence that the Book of Revelation is just a poetic retelling of Old Testament history, however nothing in the text tells us to draw that conclusion. On the contrary, Jesus specifically tells the apostle John to write about the present and the future (Revelation 1:11 and Revelation 1:19).
  2. The ocean will turn into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in it will die (Revelation 16:3).
    • The mention of a corpse here makes it clear that this is not simply another red tide occurring, but the sea is literally turned into decomposing blood. Remember that God’s goal at this point is to remove any doubt about the supernatural nature of these judgements.
  3. All the rivers and springs will turn into blood, poisoning any remaining sources of freshwater (Revelation 16:4).
    • In a way, God will be giving the people what they want. They wanted to make themselves drunk with the blood of His holy people (Revelation 17:6), so He gives them blood to drink in return (Revelation 16:6).
  4. The sun will become seven times brighter, and its heat will intensify to the point where it scorches people with fire (Revelation 16:8, Isaiah 24:6, and Isaiah 30:26).
    • The polar ice caps and glaciers would probably melt also, possibly raising the water levels back to normal given that it won’t be raining for most of the Second Half of the Tribulation. Too bad all the water will be blood.
    • You might think that the worshippers of the Antichrist would finally give in as it becomes clear that the world is ending and they are about to meet their Maker. You might think that as their skin literally begins to cook and there is no clean water to cool them off that they would fear the fires of Hell, but you’d be wrong. Rather than repent and cry out to God for mercy, they will curse Him and blaspheme His holy name (Revelation 16:9).
      • It’s interesting because the people will know that God is sending these judgements, but they will absolutely refuse to fear and worship Him.
  5. The kingdom of the Antichrist will be plunged into complete darkness, and the people will gnaw their tongues off in agony (Revelation 16:10, Isaiah 60:2, Joel 2:2, and Amos 8:9).
    • This abrupt shift from blinding sunlight to pitch black will feel extremely disorienting, and notice that the text doesn’t say that the temperature drops back to normal. That means that no one will be able to see the sun as it sears their flesh.
    • Again the people will curse God and refuse to repent (Revelation 16:11). They won’t regret anything, and they won’t feel guilty about their actions. In fact, they’ll be glad about having murdered Tribulation saints, and they would go back and do it again if they had the chance.

At this point in the Tribulation, the judgements will become so severe and so frequent that people will start to lose faith in the Antichrist’s ability to fix things. Eager to shift the blame and save face, the Antichrist will declare that the only way to beat God will be to eradicate the last remaining Jews. He will summon the nations for a final assault on Jerusalem, and God will help them by allowing demonic spirits to go out and deceive the nations, enticing them to invade Israel (Joel 3:9-11 and Revelation 16:13-14). God will even dry up the Euphrates River to clear the way for their armies (Revelation 16:12). What they won’t know is that it will be a deadly trap and that they will actually be coming to fight against Jesus Christ (Micah 4:11-12 and Revelation 17:14).

It will be around this time that the rebuilt city of Babylon, the capital city of the revived Roman Empire of the Antichrist, will be destroyed forever (Revelation 18:10):

  1. It’s unclear exactly how Babylon will fall, but it will involve several devastating plagues: death, mourning, famine, and fire (Revelation 18:8).
    • The city will already be suffering from the previous plagues that struck the whole planet, but it seems that God will reserve a specific set of plagues just for Babylon.
    • It’s possible that these plagues will be caused by natural disasters, or they may be supernatural and divine in origin. It’s also possible that these plagues will come as a result of military conflict.
      • Perhaps the nations of the world who are being gathered together to march on Israel will fight skirmishes along the way, and Babylon will suffer collateral damage.
      • Although Jeremiah’s prophecies had a near fulfillment in the destruction of ancient Babylon by the Medo-Persian empire, some of the prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. For example, Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would be completely desolate and uninhabited forever (Jeremiah 50:39-40, Jeremiah 51:26, Jeremiah 51:37, and Jeremiah 51:43), yet Saddam Hussein built a replica city on top of the original ruins. Therefore, perhaps the verses describing an army of many nations coming against Babylon (Jeremiah 50:42, Jeremiah 51:2, and Jeremiah 51:27) are referring to Babylon’s future destruction near the end of the Tribulation.
  2. It’s also unclear exactly when the city of Babylon will be destroyed.
    • Revelation 16:19 seems to indicate that Babylon’s destruction will occur at the very end of the Tribulation just before the Second Coming of Jesus. However, Babylon in that verse could refer to the entire political, economic, and religious empire of the Antichrist rather than just the capital city.
    • Based on the way the Book of Revelation’s chronology is laid out, the city of Babylon will probably be destroyed near the end of the Tribulation. However, it can’t be destroyed at the absolute end since there will have to be time left before Jesus returns for the people to mourn its destruction (Revelation 18:15 and Revelation 18:19).

After the destruction of Babylon, the nations will gather together in the valley of Megiddo (Revelation 16:16), which is about 50 miles north of Jerusalem. The Antichrist will also be there (Daniel 11:44-45 and Revelation 19:19), and the Battle of Armageddon will begin.

There will be more thunder and lightning, and the biggest earthquake of all time will occur (Isaiah 24:18-20 and Revelation 16:18). This earthquake will be so powerful that it will completely flatten every city in the world (Revelation 16:19). It will also flatten every mountain and sink every island, completely altering the topography of the entire planet (Micah 1:4, Nahum 1:5, and Revelation 16:20). The earthquake will also split Jerusalem into three parts, but that is actually a blessing rather than a judgement as we’ll see below. In addition to the earthquake, huge 100-pound hailstones will fall from the sky, and the people will curse and blaspheme God a final time (Revelation 16:21).

Second Coming

Ever since Jesus ascended into Heaven, unrepentant sinners have been trying God’s patience. God has been keeping a record of all their sins, and they have been storing up God’s wrath against themselves for the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). Finally, after giving them innumerable chances to repent, God’s patience will reach its end, and He will make them drink the cup of His wrath (Jeremiah 25:15 and Revelation 14:10).

The world will still be in complete darkness at this time (Zephaniah 1:15, Zechariah 14:6-7, Joel 3:15, and Amos 5:20), when suddenly a blinding light, like lightning, will pierce the darkness in full view of everyone (Matthew 24:27, Luke 17:24, and Revelation 1:7). There will also be the sound of a loud trumpet blast announcing the Second Coming of Jesus (Isaiah 27:13, Zechariah 9:14, and Matthew 24:31), and the whole world will see Him descending from Heaven on the clouds (Matthew 24:30, Matthew 26:64, and Acts 1:11). Jesus will come at the head of a massive army that includes the Church (Revelation 19:14)⸺as well as holy angels (Zechariah 14:5, Matthew 16:27, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, and Jude 1:14).

Just a quick aside: don’t believe anyone who tells you that they know the date of the Second Coming, because Scripture doesn’t tell us that. In fact, God didn’t even tell Jesus the date of His Second Coming during His incarnation (Mark 13:32), so why would He share that information with one of us sinners? It’s true that the believers who are alive during the Tribulation will be able to count 1,260 days from the Abomination of Desolation (Daniel 7:25, Daniel 9:27, Daniel 12:7, Revelation 11:3, and Revelation 12:6), which will give them a general timeframe. However, there is an additional period of 30-75 days mentioned in these same prophecies (Daniel 12:11-12), so it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact day and hour of Christ’s return. Likewise, don’t believe anyone who claims to be the Messiah (Luke 17:23), because when Jesus returns, no one will miss it nor doubt who He is.

Jesus will land “on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.” (Zechariah 14:4, Ezekiel 43:2, and Revelation 14:1) The Jews who are under siege will flee the coming judgement through this newly created valley (Zechariah 14:5), and they will fight their way out of the city (Micah 4:13 and Zechariah 14:14). Jesus will assist the escaping Jews by inflicting horrible plagues upon their enemies and throwing them into a panic so that they attack one another (Zechariah 14:12-13).

Jesus will gather the surrounding armies into the newly created valley, now called the Valley of Jehoshaphat because that is where He will judge them (Joel 3:2 and Zephaniah 3:8). The angels are told to swing their sickles to gather in the harvest of grapes, which are the unrighteous, and Jesus tramples them as in a winepress until their blood overflows and spatters all over for a distance of 180 miles (Joel 3:12-14, Isaiah 63:1-6, and Revelation 14:20). He will also strike them down with the sword coming out of His mouth, which is His Word (Revelation 19:15 and Hebrews 4:12), and scavenger birds will pick at the dead bodies (Matthew 24:38, Revelation 19:17-18, and Revelation 19:21).

Jesus will also send out angels to gather together any of the remaining elect and unrighteous elsewhere on the Earth (Matthew 13:41, Matthew 24:31, and Revelation 14:15-16). Apparently, not all the people of the world will join the armies in their march on Jerusalem. Certainly some will attempt to continue life as usual, although I’m not sure what a typical day will be like in complete darkness, burning heat, and extreme famine and drought. Also, any Gentiles who become believers due to the preaching of the 144,000 will probably still be in hiding to elude the Antichrist’s secret police.

Both the believers and the unbelievers will be gathered together for the Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 24:40-41, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 17:34-35). Jesus will sit upon His glorious throne and force each person to pass under His rod of judgement (Ezekiel 20:34-38), separating the believers from the unbelievers. The unbelievers will be killed just like those who waged war against Jerusalem, and all of them will be sent to Hades, which is a temporary holding place for the unrighteous (Luke 16:23). However, Jesus will send the Antichrist and the False Prophet directly to Hell (Daniel 7:11 and Revelation 19:20). The believers will be allowed to continue living and will enter into the Millennial Kingdom.

We don’t know exactly how long it will take for Jesus to judge the nations, but it seems like it will probably be around 45 days (Daniel 12:11-12). During that time, Jesus will resurrect the Old Testament saints and dead Tribulation saints (Daniel 12:2 and Revelation 20:4). He will also lock up Satan and his demons in the Abyss during the Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 24:21-22 and Revelation 20:1-3).

Millennial Kingdom

The Millennial Kingdom is so named because it will be a time when Jesus reigns visibly as King on Earth for 1,000 years (Zechariah 14:9, Psalm 2:6, and Psalm 11:4).

Israel and the Temple Restored

The nation of Israel will be restored in the Promised Land (Ezekiel 47:13-23 and Ezekiel 48), and Jesus’ physical throne will be in the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 43:6-7). Most likely, the Temple that is rebuilt during the Tribulation will be damaged or destroyed completely, so Jesus will either have to rebuild or restore it (Zechariah 6:12-13). Except now the glory of God will fill it.

The topography around the Temple will be different also due to all of the earthquakes that will occur during the Tribulation. For example, the Temple Mount, also known as Mount Zion, will be the highest mountain in the world (Zechariah 8:3, Micah 4:1, Isaiah 2:2, and Psalm 48:2). Also, living water will flow out from the Temple, half to the Dead Sea and half into the Mediterranean Sea (Zechariah 14:8). The water will turn the Dead Sea into a freshwater lake teeming with fish, and special fruit trees with healing leaves will grow all along the riverbank (Ezekiel 47:1-12).

The Promised Land will be divided up according to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and it will once again be a land flowing with milk and honey. The Jews will rebuild their cities and replant their vineyards, and they will reap an abundant harvest thanks to God’s blessing (Zechariah 8:12, Amos 9:13-14, and Isaiah 41:18-19). The Gentiles living throughout the rest of the planet will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship Jesus (Micah 4:2, Isaiah 2:3, Zechariah 8:20-23, and Zechariah 14:16).

The sacrificial system will be reestablished in the Temple (Ezekiel 45:13-25 and Ezekiel 46:1-15), but with some notable changes:

  1. In the Old Testament, God established the sacrificial system as a symbol pointing to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which was still in the future (Hebrews 10:14). During the Millennial Kingdom, the sacrifices will also point to Christ, but they will be looking back into the past to remember what Christ has already done. This is similar to how Christians remember Jesus through the Lord’s Supper.
  2. Some might argue that these prophecies in Ezekiel are referring to the reestablishment of the sacrifices in the Second Temple, but note that different sacrifices are required. For example, Ezekiel 45:23 says that seven bulls and seven rams must be sacrificed during each day of Passover, but Numbers 28:19 says that two bulls, one ram, and seven male lambs must be sacrificed each day.
    • Not only does this change reinforce the teaching that the sacrifices themselves have no intrinsic value, but it also confirms that the new sacrificial system takes place during the Millennial Kingdom since God’s number of perfection and completion is used repeatedly.
  3. Also, note that the “prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 44:3)
    • It’s unclear exactly who this Prince is. Some argue that he must be the Messiah, but that interpretation faces several problems:
      • Jesus is the Messiah, and He did not sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). Indeed, since Jesus is God and God is infinitely holy and pure, then Jesus cannot sin (Habakkuk 1:13). However, the Prince must offer a sin offering for himself (Ezekiel 45:22), which indicates that he is a sinner and therefore not the Messiah.
      • Jesus is the Creator of all things (John 1:3), and the whole world belongs to Him (Exodus 19:5, Psalm 24:1, and Psalm 50:10). However, the Prince is only granted a small portion of land in Israel (Ezekiel 45:7).
      • We have no reason to believe that Jesus fathered any children when He lived on Earth the first time, and we have no reason to believe that He will father any children when he reigns during the Millennial Kingdom. However, the Prince will clearly have children (Ezekiel 46:16). You raise a lot of questions if you start arguing that Jesus will father children. For example: Would they be born sinners? Would they be God? If the Church is the Bride of Christ, what does that make the mother of Jesus’ children?
    • It’s best to view this Prince as simply a civil leader of the nation of Israel, though not a king since Jesus is King.
      • Recall that God promised that “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel.” (Jeremiah 33:17) I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this was a clear Messianic prophecy about Jesus. However, several prophecies had a dual fulfillment, so it’s likely that the Prince offering sacrifices in the Millennial Temple will be someone from the line of David.
      • Note that the Hebrew word translated as Prince (nasiy’) doesn’t necessarily mean son and heir of the King. It could also be translated as ruler, leader, chief, captain, or governor. It’s interesting that Zerubbabel, one of Jesus’ ancestors in the line of David, was governor rather than king of Israel when they rebuilt the Second Temple (Zerubbabel’s Temple). It’s clear that God orchestrated the return of the Jews from exile and the rebuilding of Zerubbabel’s Temple as a foreshadowing of the future restoration of Israel and the rebuilding of the Millennial Temple. Therefore, it’s possible that another person in the spirit of Zerubbabel will be the civil leader of Israel during that time. In another clear Messianic prophecy, God declared that Zerubbabel would be like a signet ring (Haggai 2:23), however it could also be alluding to the fact that another from the line of David will serve under Jesus as leader of Israel.

Some Christians are offended at the idea of the reinstitution of the sacrificial system during the Millennial Kingdom. They argue that Christ is the one perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18), so it would be an insult for the Jews to resume the slaughter of animals even after coming to a saving faith in Jesus. Here is my response:

  • I would agree that it is blasphemy for someone who professes faith in Jesus to believe that the blood of bulls and goats can take away their sins, but the reinstitution of the sacrificial system during the Millennial Kingdom won’t teach that.
  • Instead, Jesus will re-establish the sacrificial system as it was originally intended to be: an annual reminder of our sins and a shadow pointing us to the true sacrifice in the person of Jesus Christ.
  • We have a perfect analogy with the different beliefs that Protestants and Catholics hold regarding the Lord’s Supper (aka Holy Communion or the Eucharist). Protestants believe that the bread and the wine are merely symbols reminding us how Jesus offered up his body and blood to redeem us. In contrast, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (CCC 1376) teaches that the bread and the wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus when the priest blesses them during the mass. Catholicism also teaches that believers must celebrate the Eucharist on a regular basis in order to remain united with Christ’s resurrection (i.e. it is one of the Holy Sacraments required for salvation).

Gentiles and Resurrected Saints

Besides the Jews and Gentiles, there will be another group of people alive on the Earth: the dead believers from throughout all the ages who have been raised again. These resurrected believers include the Old Testament saints (Daniel 7:18-27), the Apostles (Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30), the Church (1 Corinthians 6:2, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 2:26-27, Revelation 3:21, and Revelation 5:10), and the Tribulation saints (Revelation 20:4-6). The Christians will have already been resurrected during the Rapture, and they will return to Earth during the Second Coming of Jesus. The rest of the dead believers will be resurrected just before the start of the Millennial Kingdom.

Unlike the living Jews and Gentiles, who will dwell in normal earthly bodies, the resurrected saints will dwell in heavenly bodies (Philippians 3:21 and 1 Corinthians 15:40). What will these glorified bodies be like? They will be like Jesus’ body after the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-44):

  • They will bear some resemblance to how they used to look during their earthly life (Matthew 28:9).
  • They will have the ability to pass through physical barriers (John 20:19 and John 20:26).
  • They will have physical substance (Luke 24:39).
  • They will have the ability to eat food (Luke 24:41-43).
  • They will probably be able to fly. How else would people get around in the city of New Jerusalem that is roughly 1,400 miles high (Revelation 21:16)?
  • They will not suffer from sickness, fatigue, hunger or thirst. They will not suffer from physical handicaps, although there may be scars to remind us of the earthly life from which we were redeemed (John 20:24-27).
  • They will not sin, since the progressive sanctification that we experience during our earthly lives will suddenly give way to our ultimate glorification after our resurrection (2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and 1 John 3:2).

Sin in Christ’s Kingdom

One group who will not be on the Earth during the Millennial Kingdom will be Satan and his demons (Isaiah 24:21-22 and Revelation 20:1-3). They will be locked up in the Abyss and therefore unable to deceive people (1 Kings 22:19-23, 1 Timothy 4:1, 1 John 4:1-3, and James 3:14-15) and tempt them into committing sins (Matthew 4:1, 1 Corinthians 7:5, and Revelation 12:9). Does that mean that humans won’t sin anymore? No, unfortunately people will still sin during the Millennial Kingdom. Demons don’t force people to sin; they merely create an environment of deception and temptation that makes sin look more appealing (Genesis 3:1-6 and 2 Corinthians 11:3). Sins come out of the evil desires of the human heart (Matthew 15:19, James 1:13-15, and James 4:1-3).

In fact, I think that may be one of the reasons that God will lock up the demons during the Millennial Kingdom: to prove that people reject Jesus because they love their sins more than they love Him. The Millennial Kingdom will be a time of unprecedented peace, justice, freedom, and equality. The Earth will be remade into a paradise like the Garden of Eden (Isaiah 11:6-9, Isaiah 35:6-7, Isaiah 51:3, Isaiah 65:20-25, and Ezekiel 36:35), and there will be no demonic influence. God will remove all excuses, and yet people will still sin, proving that we deserve His wrath.

But how will the Millennial Kingdom be a paradise if the people living in it continue to sin? In the Millennial Kingdom, Jesus will rule the nations with swift and severe judgement (Isaiah 11:4), and He will punish anyone who refuses to worship Him (Zechariah 14:17-20, Psalm 2:10-12, and Psalm 72:9). Since Jesus will not be in all places at once, He will appoint the resurrected saints from all the ages to reign with Him as judges and priests. They will execute the will of Jesus perfectly, without selfish ambitions and without corruption. They won’t even have to ask Jesus anything to know His will, because then they will know fully even as they are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Since sin won’t be completely removed from the Earth during the Millennial Kingdom, people will still die (Ezekiel 18:20 and Romans 6:23), at which point they will be immediately resurrected into their eternal, glorified state. However, humans will have much longer lifespans than today due to the perfect conditions, reminiscent of the pre-Flood Earth (Genesis 5). As a result of longer lifespans, the world population will quickly return to pre-Tribulation numbers.

Jesus versus Satan

After 1,000 years of imprisonment in the Abyss, Satan will be released to gather a huge army of people from all over the world, as numerous as grains of sand on the seashore (Revelation 20:7-8). They will march into Israel and surround the city of Jerusalem, preparing to do battle with Jesus (Revelation 20:9). Finally, the stage will be set for the ultimate showdown between good and evil, and we anticipate a pitched battle that rages across the landscape like something out of a Lord of the Rings film. Instead, we read, “But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” Such a short description is sort of anticlimactic, but then we should have expected that Jesus would defeat Satan without breaking a sweat.

The Bible actually does give us a few more details about this event in Ezekiel 38-39. We read about a man named Gog, of the land of Magog, who will be the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. He will lead a massive army of his own, and he’ll be joined by the armies of Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Beth-togarmah. They will notice that Israel is a land of unwalled villages (Ezekiel 38:11 and Zechariah 2:4-5). All of them will invade Israel to plunder its wealth, but God will slaughter them with torrential rains, hailstones, fire, and sulphur from the sky. The birds and beasts will gorge themselves upon the decaying corpses, and it will take the survivors seven months just to bury all of the dead bodies that are lying on the ground (Isaiah 66:24). After the seven months, they will need to conduct a more detailed search to cleanse the land of any remaining bones. In addition, it will take seven years for the survivors to melt down and incinerate all of the invaders’ weapons that are left behind.

Many attempts have been made to identify the nations in Ezekiel’s prophecy::

  • Magog – First-century historian Josephus identified Magog as the land of the Scythians. According to Greek historians like Herodotus, the Scythians were a nomadic people living north of Israel in the areas around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Today that area is occupied by several former Soviet republics including Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
  • Rosh – Some Bible expositors believe that this is Russia, since early Islamic sources refer to a Rus people inhabiting the area of Ukraine and western Russia. However, rosh could also be translated chief⸺in other words Gog is the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
  • Meshech and Tubal – Some expositors believe that these nations existed in what is now Turkey since they traded with Tyre in Lebanon (Ezekiel 27:13). Others believe that they are Moschi and Tibareni, nations that existed in modern-day Georgia and Azerbaijan.
  • Persia – This nation existed in modern-day Iran.
  • Cush – This nation existed in modern-day Ethiopia and Sudan.
  • Put – This nation existed in modern-day Libya.
  • Gomer – Some expositors believe that this refers to what is modern-day Germany, but the more common view is that this refers to the Cimmerians who lived in Turkey, Ukraine, and southern Russia.
  • Beth-togarmah Some translations list this as the House of Togarmah. Either way, most expositors believe that this refers to the Armenians who lived in Turkey.

Some Christians believe that the prophecy in Ezekiel refers to the Battle of Armageddon or some other war during the Tribulation. However, Revelation 20:8 is the only other place in the Bible where Gog and Magog are mentioned. This can’t be a coincidence, so I must assume that the battle of Gog and Magog takes place at the end of the Millennial Kingdom. In that case, it really doesn’t matter the identity of the nations in Ezekiel’s prophecy. There will be an entirely new population of people inhabiting the lands at that time, so all we need to take away from Ezekiel’s prophecy is that nations to the north, south, east, and west of Israel will join the invasion.

Finally, while the number of people following Satan certainly is surprising, it’s even more surprising is that God decides to release Satan in the first place. However, I believe that God does this just to show the depth of man’s depravity. After all, if Satan is able to gather so many followers even after people have been enjoying Christ’s perfect reign for 1,000 years, then it proves how much humans love sin.

Alternate Views

The idea that the Second Coming of Jesus will precede His literal 1,000-year reign on Earth is known as premillennialism. While I believe that this is the most reasonable interpretation of end times prophecies based on the historical, grammatical form of Biblical hermeneutics, it’s worth spending some time discussing two other popular interpretations.

First is postmillennialism, which says that the Second Coming of Jesus will occur after the Millennial Kingdom. Postmillennialists generally believe:

  • The 1,000 years of Revelation 20 is just a figurative way of saying a long time. It does not refer to a literal 1,000-year period of time.
  • The Millennial Kingdom is not something that Jesus sets up on Earth. Instead, the Church will continue to spread the Gospel to all nations until the overwhelming majority of people in the world are born-again Christians.
  • After this golden age of gospel advancement, there will be a brief period of apostasy, followed by the Second Coming of Jesus.

Next is amillennialism, which says that there is no Millennial Kingdom. Amillennialists generally believe:

  • The 1,000 years of Revelation 20 is just a figurative way of saying a long time. It does not refer to a literal 1,000-year period of time.
  • Jesus is currently ruling and reigning over the Kingdom of God on Earth.
  • The Second Coming of Jesus could be any time because there are no prerequisite events that must happen prior to His return.

As you can see, premillennialism takes the most literal approach to interpreting end times prophecy, while amillennialism takes the most figurative approach, and postmillennialism lands somewhere in the middle. The problem with taking a more figurative approach to end times prophecy is that unless the Bible gives us the key to unlock the hidden meaning, then anyone can make it mean whatever they want. If 1,000 years doesn’t mean a literal millennium, then how long are the other periods of time in Revelation (three and a half days, five months, forty-two months, and 1,260 days)? Also, how do you interpret all the other numbers in Revelation (seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, 144,000 Jews, two witnesses, seven thousand people, etc.)? If a year isn’t a year and a day isn’t a day, then you can end up with some truly bizarre ideas (e.g. the Jehovah’s Witnesses use the fallacious day-year principle to prove that Jesus became King in Heaven in October 1914).

However, the larger problem with taking a more figurative approach to interpreting end times prophecy is that you make God into a liar. God has made specific, unilateral promises to the nation of Israel that can only be fulfilled if Christ reigns visibly on Earth prior to the New Heaven and the New Earth. For example:

  • Under the Abrahamic Covenant, God swore to give the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:7, Genesis 13:14-17, Genesis 15:18-21, and Genesis 17:8). The wording of these promises makes it clear that God was referring to the physical land that Abraham could see.
  • Under the Palestinian Covenant, God swore to restore the nation of Israel back into the Promised Land after they had been scattered among the nations (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). This promise cannot refer to Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity because at that time they didn’t love God with all their heart and soul. Instead, they rejected Jesus when He preached among them.

God reiterated these promises through the prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-38, Jeremiah 32:37-44, Ezekiel 20:34-44, and Ezekiel 36-37). In many cases, God promised to destroy Jerusalem and remove the Israelites from the land in the very same text where He promised to restore them. We know that God’s promises to punish Israel literally came true, so why would we expect His promises to restore Israel to be figurative?

According to the Doctrine of Election, nothing can stop God from granting eternal salvation to those whom He has chosen. Likewise, God’s promises to His chosen people the Israelites cannot be broken. Christians should therefore feel more secure in our own salvation when we observe that the Jewish people have maintained their culture and ethnicity despite thousands of years of continuous persecution. As John MacArthur put it, “every self-respecting Calvinist has to be a premillennialist.”

Great White Throne Judgement

After Jesus’ final triumph over evil, Satan and his demons will be cast into Hell forever (Revelation 20:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:24-25), and God will completely obliterate the universe (Revelation 20:11). Jesus predicted that Heaven and Earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35). The prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist warned that the heavens will vanish like smoke and the Earth will wear out like a garment (Isaiah 51:6 and Psalm 102:25-26). When the apostle Peter described this event, he wrote that even the elements will be annihilated (2 Peter 3:10-12), meaning that all time, space, matter, and energy will cease to exist. Therefore, Judgement Day will take place in some extradimensional location, outside of time and space.

In this world between worlds, God will be seated upon a great white throne, and all the dead unbelievers from all the ages will be resurrected and brought before Him (Revelation 20:12-13, John 5:28-29, and Daniel 12:2). The throne will be covered with flames, and a river of fire will flow from it (Daniel 7:9-10). Jesus Christ will also be seated upon the throne, and it will be He who renders the final judgement on all mankind (John 5:22, Acts 17:31, and Romans 2:16). God has given Jesus the authority to judge because He is the Son of Man (John 5:27). In other words, there is no better judge for mankind than Jesus because He lived among us as one of us.

When the court is seated, the books will be opened and the trial will begin for those who did not plead guilty and beg for mercy during life. Notice that there are books and a separate book, which is the Lamb’s Book of Life. Anyone who repents of their sins while alive and puts their faith in Jesus Christ to forgive them will have his or her name written into the Lamb’s Book of Life, but anyone who is not born-again will have his or her name blotted out (Exodus 32:33, Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8, and Revelation 21:27). If your name is not listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then you will be judged according to the contents of the other set of books.

These books contain a perfect record of every word, thought, and deed from each person’s life so that God, who knows all things and sees all things (Matthew 12:36-37 and Luke 12:2-3), can render perfect judgement upon each person according to what they have done. The bad news for the unsaved is that God’s moral standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48), and we all fall far short of that. As the writer of Hebrews put it, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

One by one, God will read the account of each person’s life, and since their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they will be cast into Hell forever (Revelation 20:15). Then, both Death and Hades will be cast into Hell also (Revelation 20:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:26), and God’s wrath will be satisfied.

New Heaven and New Earth

As I just described, Judgement Day will take place in some extradimensional location, because God will destroy the entire universe, including all time, space, matter, and energy. Once Judgment Day has passed, God will have to create a New Heaven and a New Earth, except the New Earth will not have any oceans on it (Revelation 21:1). Then, down out of Heaven will descend the holy city of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:10, Revelation 3:12, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:16, and Hebrews 12:22):

  • The city will shine with the glory of God, and its brilliance will be like a precious jewel (Revelation 21:11). The footprint of the city will be in the shape of a square, and it will measure about 1,400 miles cubed (Revelation 21:15-16). That’s right, the city will be 1,400 miles high, which seems to indicate that we will have some ability to levitate in our glorified eternal state. The city and the streets will be made of pure gold that’s as clear as transparent glass (Revelation 21:18 and Revelation 21:21).
  • The city will have a great, high wall with twelve gates: three on the east side, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west (Revelation 21:12-13). An angel will stand at each of the gates, and upon each gate will be the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. I suppose that means that Joseph’s name will be written on one of the gates rather than the two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Each gate will be made of a single pearl (Revelation 21:21), hence the expression “pearly gates.” The gates will never be shut (Revelation 21:25).
  • The great, high wall of the city will have twelve foundations, with the name of one of the twelve apostles written on each foundation (Revelation 21:14). We can safely assume that Judas Iscariot’s name will not be listed there since Matthias replaced him, but I’m not sure about the apostle Paul. The wall measures about 200 feet (Revelation 21:17), but the text doesn’t tell us whether that is the height or the thickness. I would argue that it refers to the thickness of the wall, because you wouldn’t describe a 200-foot-high wall as a “great, high wall” if it surrounds a city that’s 1,400 miles high. The foundation of the city wall will be decorated with all kinds of precious stones (Revelation 21:19-20)
  • There will not be a temple in the city, because God and Jesus Christ will be the temple (Revelation 21:22). In other words, the presence of God will be all around and not confined to a specific building. Similarly, there will not be a sun or moon or night anymore, because the glory of God and Jesus Christ will be an everlasting source of light (Revelation 21:23-25, Revelation 22:5, Isaiah 60:19-20, and 1 John 1:5).
  • There will be a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and Jesus and down the middle of the main street of the city (Revelation 22:1-2). The tree of life will grow on each side of the river bearing twelve kinds of fruit. The tree will produce fruit every month of the year, and the leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations.

When the text describes the city of New Jerusalem as coming down out of Heaven, it means that the city has always existed as the abode of God. Jesus confirmed this when he said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) The city is also the dwelling place of the redeemed saints of all the ages, which is why it is described as both the bride and the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9, Isaiah 62:5, Ephesians 5:22-33, and 2 Corinthians 11:2).

Because God will dwell among humans and because nothing impure will ever enter the eternal city (Revelation 21:27), our existence will be one of infinite bliss: no tears, no sadness, no disease, no suffering, no death, no hunger, no pain, no worry, no fear, no curse, and no memories of former times (Revelation 21:4, Revelation 22:3, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 53:5, and Isaiah 65:17-19).