Keys to Understanding Bible Prophecy!
Lesson six (a) - The End of This Present Evil Age
Now as [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). They wanted to know when the age of Satan-which the apostle Paul refers to as "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4)-would give way to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus explained that His return would be preceded by "great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21).
The Bible clearly tells us about that one generation, the generation that will be alive at the end of this age, would be the "Final Generation." The last Generation of this age.
"Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." (Matthew 24:32-35)
It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of suffering that will take place during a few terrifying years at the end of our age. Prophecy portrays that time as the most violent and tumultuous period in history. Jesus continued, "If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive . . ." (verse 22, R.E.B.)
Mercifully, that frightening time will quickly pass. Immediately after it will begin the wonderful era of the Kingdom of God, about which Daniel wrote. Christ will return at the conclusion of that violent era to establish permanent peace.
Why, then, will God allow those days of war and chaos to occur?
The unseen hand of the archdeceiver
The Bible describes an evil being who has deceived mankind. Through this deception he has made himself the ruler and god of this present age. Just before Jesus Christ returns, God Almighty will permit Satan the devil finally to bring about what he started with the original city of ancient Babel, or Babylon (Genesis 11:1, 4). Satan used a man named Nimrod to organize the many small but rapidly multiplying tribes of mankind into a system quite different from what God intended.
Nimrod's kingdom was the first recorded attempt to unite all people into a single empire (Genesis 10:8-12). His ambitious effort, however, was contrary to God's purpose. It was humanity's first attempt to thwart God's desire to give each family group its own territory as an inheritance (Genesis 10:32). God wanted mankind to make use of the extended family as the foundation for organization and structure. Nimrod, however, persuaded the people of his time to reject God's plan in favor of a single empire supported by a strong military force.
Nimrod's followers lacked faith in God's protection, leadership and way of life. They wanted to decide for themselves how the earth should be organized and governed. They preferred to remain as one people and organize themselves without family distinctions (Genesis 11:1, 4).
What was God's reaction? He intervened in the incident at the Tower of Babel and, by confusing their language, compelled earth's early inhabitants to scatter and form separate nations as He had intended (verses 6-8). Ever since, God's prophets have used the term Babylon as a symbolic representation of Satan's dominion through human government, culture and religion.
During the latter days of the kingdom of Judah, in the sixth century BC., the ancient city of Babylon expanded its power to become the dominant regional empire under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar II (the Nebuchadnezzar of the Bible).
At the time of the end, Satan, for a brief time, will again organize several blocs of nations into significant world powers (Revelation 9:16-18; 17:12-13).
The symbolic beast will rise again
Chapter 12 of Revelation pictures Satan as "a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads" (verse 3). It describes Satan's attempt to destroy Jesus Christ shortly after His birth: "And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born" (verse 4; compare Matthew 2:13-21).
Then the scene shifts to the time of the end: "Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (verse 12).
Next Revelation 13 begins with a description of "a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name" (verse 1). This beast reflects characteristics of four similar beasts mentioned in one of Daniel's prophetic visions (Daniel 7).
The apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation, further describes the beast as he saw it: "Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority" (Revelation 13:2).
Satan (the dragon) is the power behind the scenes. This end-time political and military alliance will reflect many of the features of the four ancient empires that began with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
"The beast that you saw [having the same basic characteristics as the four beasts in Daniel 7, which represent ancient Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome] was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is" (Revelation 17:8).
With the fall of Rome, that ancient system supposedly came to an end-as if mortally wounded. But its surprising revival, from the ashes of the Roman Empire, is described here in the book of Revelation. "And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast" (Revelation 13:3).
Notice the power and influence this satanically guided governing system will wield in the last days. "So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" (verse 4). The world will fear and marvel at the enormous power of this alliance of nations.
Notice the configuration of this political and military alliance. "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour [a short time] as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them . . ." (Revelation 17:12-14).
"Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb [as if inspired by or trying to impersonate Christ] and spoke like a dragon [Satan]. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed" (Revelation 13:11-12). This beast claims to represent Jesus Christ-the true Lamb of God (verse 8)-but actually speaks for Satan concerning what humans can worship.
In Revelation 17 this beast is also pictured as a fallen woman, a harlot. "And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth" (verses 3-5).
The fallen woman sits on and guides the first beast (the alliance of 10 kings, rulers of nations or groups of nations). She is the world's chief advocate of Satan's disgraceful doctrines. She artfully preserves the pagan mysteries-the fundamentals of ancient Babylon's religion-in her traditions and teachings. She will be a fierce advocate of these ancient religious customs and practices at the end of this age, again making them internationally popular.
Who is this spiritual harlot? "And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (verse 18). The ancient cities of Babylon and Rome controlled vast empires, subjecting many nations and kings to their traditions and culture. Prophecy reveals that a modern city will assume a similar role at the time of the end.
This city will be powerfully influential in this world's religious, political and economic arenas. By the time the fallen woman-this Babylon the Great-is destroyed by Christ, "all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury" (Revelation 18:3).
This is a religious power that will influence every level of society. For a time she will be the pacesetter for the world. She is "the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication" (Revelation 17:1-2).
Satan will employ the traditions and beliefs of this powerful city to deceive the world (Revelation 12:9). "The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues [languages]" (Revelation 17:15).
Satan will also use the leaders of these two beasts to convince the world that a new political and religious alliance is the key to lasting international peace. But the entire system will be built on concepts that appeal to human reasoning, lust and vanity while rejecting the revealed laws and ways of God. Partly for that reason, the book of Revelation aptly defines this end-time advocate of Satan's traditions as "Babylon the Great" (Revelation 16:19; 18:2).
Psalm 2:1-3 describes the attitude of rulers and other people who embrace Satan's principles: "Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us" Satan's political and religious systems are rooted in the popular conviction that man has the right to decide for himself what is right and wrong.
Illusion of peace
The devil boasted to Jesus Christ of his power and control over "all the kingdoms of the world" (Matthew 4:8-9). He will never willingly relinquish his powerful influence over mankind. This is why the world will experience the terrifying time prophesied by Jesus Christ-a time that, if not cut short, would lead to the extinction of human life (Matthew 24:21-22).
Satan, the master deceiver, often deludes human agents into marketing his deceptive arguments. He uses them to champion his basic concepts.
At the time of the end Satan's philosophy will be vigorously promoted as mankind's final hope for world peace and security (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). It will be championed as the world's greatest opportunity to work together for the good of all.
Scripture refers to Satan's main advocate in the time of the end as "the man of sin . . . , the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
His efforts will be "according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie" (verses 9-11).
This man's persuasive powers will be enormous.
Tragically, multitudes from all nations will believe his clever lies. They will enthusiastically endorse the concepts Satan introduced at the Tower of Babel. They will be thoroughly deluded into believing deceptive assurances that these satanic concepts will produce world peace and harmony.
A time of worldwide conflict
But these false promises of lasting peace and security will be short-lived. Satan's end-time political kingdom will have a fatal flaw that will rip its unity apart.
God revealed to the prophet Daniel that, in its final phase, "the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay" (Daniel 2:42-43).
The nations involved will be unable to override their differences. At the very end "the ten horns which you saw on the beast . . . will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire" (Revelation 17:16).
Adding to the turmoil and conflict will be kings from east of the Euphrates River who take part in "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:12-14).
Also, many prophecies imply the end-time existence of people descended from the 12 tribes of Israel. Some of these prophecies indicate that these descendants of both the house of Israel and the house of Judah-the Jews-will become objects of Satan's wrath (Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 31:7-10; Revelation 7:2-4; 12:1, 13).
Remember that the apostle John, in his vision concerning Satan's part in end-time events, heard a voice exclaiming: "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Revelation 12:12).
Satan's intentions embody no concern for the welfare of human beings. He wants to use the factions of humanity for war, not peace. The devil knows Jesus Christ will soon return. He is fully aware that his control over humanity will soon end. Therefore, Bible prophecy reveals, Satan plans to manipulate humanity's efforts to achieve lasting peace and unity as a tool for venting his own anger against Christ.
Rather than enjoying peace and safety, mankind will fall victim to Satan's desperation and wrath. The devil will once again pit mankind against the true God. The armies of many nations will gather in the vicinity of Jerusalem for the most terrifying military showdown in history. Jerusalem is considered a holy city by three of this world's greatest religions. Geographically, it is in one of the most strategically important locations on earth, the crossroads of three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe.
The battle of the great day of God Almighty
To assemble these armies, Satan will send "spirits of demons, performing signs . . . to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:14). What the gathered generals, other officers and soldiers will not realize is that Satan plans to use them to fight Jesus Christ as He descends from heaven (Revelation 19:11-19; Zachariah 14:3-4).
This "great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:14) is also called the "Day of the Lord" in the Scriptures. These terms, in this context, refer to the time just before Christ returns when God will punish a defiant humanity for its rebellion. It is the time when the nations in Satan's system will bring on themselves the wrath of God (Revelation 14:9-10).
A large faction in this final battle-the beast power supported by a coalition of 10 rulers-will amass its armies on the plain near the ancient military fortress of Megiddo in northern Israel. "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (Revelation 16:16).
The very word Armageddon (from Har-magedon, the hill of Megiddo) has become a term for a vast and decisive battle that threatens all life on the planet. That was the point of Christ's statement about the time of the end: Human survival is at stake! Weapons of mass destruction are so powerful that life on earth can be destroyed many times over.
As Daniel said: "At that time . . . there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time" (Daniel 12:1). Without Jesus Christ's intervention to rescue the world from Satan's cunning and man's foolishness, human life would be extinguished.
Maybe this seems too fantastic ever to really occur. But it is real. It will happen. The apostle Paul spoke plainly of this earth-shaking time: "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night [at an unexpected time]. For when they say, Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
When the world's final effort for international unity to insure "peace and safety" falls apart, a world war unlike anything man has ever seen will result. After a brief period of unimaginable destruction, Christ will intervene to prevent human annihilation (Matthew 24:22).
God will humble the nations
Why must the world come to this tragic state of affairs? What is God's purpose at this critical time in history, the era the Bible calls "the great and awesome day of the Lord"? (Joel 2:31).
God's ultimate goal has always been to bring all people to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But universal repentance is impossible as long as most people follow Satan's lead in proudly exalting human opinions and traditions above the teaching of the living God.
Long ago, through Isaiah, God explained what He plans to accomplish during the coming Day of the Lord. "For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up; and it shall be brought low" (Isaiah 2:12). Before Jesus Christ returns to assume rulership over the earth, God plans to humble all people who will respond to His correction.
The survivors from this brief but devastating period-especially those descended from ancient Israel and Judah-will be primarily people whose hearts have softened and been humbled by their experiences (Isaiah 2:11). Through their trauma God will prepare a humbled people who will willingly accept Christ's leadership and teaching when He returns.
The prophet Zephaniah explained that God uses catastrophes to humble people. ". . . My determination is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy . . . for then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain. I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people . . ." (Zephaniah 3:8-12).
Though this passage is specifically directed toward the end-time remnant of Israel and Judah, it graphically illustrates how and why God humbles the proud and arrogant.
Through the prophet Ezekiel God explained why He urges mankind to repent and turn from sin: "Again, when I say to the wicked, You shall surely die,' if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, . . . and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die" (Ezekiel 33:14-15). Isaiah 59:20) illustrates the same principle: "The Redeemer will come to Zion [Jerusalem], and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,' says the Lord."
On the other hand, God promises no such rescue for those who reject His correction and refuse to repent of their arrogant and rebellious ways. They will receive no divine protection from the horrendous destruction that will ravage the earth. "Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it" (Isaiah 13:9).
Preparing the world for Christ's return
Many prophetic passages describe the time of God's preparation of the world to accept the rule of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. As Creator of the universe, God will demonstrate His authority and power over everything He has created. Mankind will have no excuse for refusing to honor Him with the respect due His name.
Why are drastic measures necessary?
Notice Paul's description of humanity's prevailing attitude at the time of the end: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Mankind's attitude and motivation must change. The haughty, headstrong, unloving and brutal attitudes dominating the world at the time of the end must be altered. God knows that only the destruction of this world's society-ironically, mostly by man's own treachery and violence-will adequately shock hardened human minds into realizing that "this present evil age" is too corrupt to be preserved.
Our society is rapidly deteriorating morally and spiritually into the ungodly attitudes and practices that Paul warned would characterize the last days. Jesus gives this warning to people perceptive enough and willing to listen: "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth" (Luke 21:34-35).
Not willing to repent
Even in the terrifying midst of the dying and destruction of the end time, most people will cling to their evil ways. "But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons . . . And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Revelation 9:20-21).
The task of bringing mankind to repentance is neither simple nor quick, and it cannot happen without suffering. People have demonstrated throughout history that most will not face up to their sins unless they personally and immediately experience sin's devastating consequences.
The world we know will reap the full penalty of its sins. God compares end-time events to an angel harvesting a vine loaded with grapes. "So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God" (Revelation 14:19). God will no longer limit the destructiveness of man or Satan-except to intervene just before human annihilation can occur.
The prophet Zephaniah described that day of reckoning for mankind's collective evil and rebellion: "The great day of the Lord is . . . a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation . . . I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath . . ." (Zephaniah 1:14-18).
Jesus describes this time as one of "great distress in the land and wrath upon this people . . . They will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations" (Luke 21:23-24). He also explains that "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (verse 24). God will allow gentiles to "tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months"-a period of 31/2 years-just before Jesus returns (Revelation 11:2).
How the past relates to the future
Jesus ties the future to the roots of the crisis at the close of the age. To understand the importance of Jerusalem at the time of the end, we need to go back in history to the first fall of Jerusalem to control of gentiles. Jerusalem's fall directly relates to events at the end of the age.
In 587 BC. the Babylonian Empire captured and destroyed Jerusalem. This momentous event, along with the capture and exile of Jerusalem's residents, was the final punishment God meted out on the ancient nations of Israel and Judah. It brought to an end the direct rule of King David's dynasty over the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ will permanently reestablish and rule from David's throne at His return (Luke 1:32-33).
Psalm 106:40-42 summarizes the captivity of Israel and Judah: "Therefore the wrath of the Lord was kindled against His people, so that He abhorred His own inheritance. And He gave them into the hand of the Gentiles, and those who hated them ruled over them. Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand."
From that time forward the hope of Israel's and Judah's descendants has been expressed in this prayer: "Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the Gentiles, to give thanks to Your holy name, to triumph in Your praise" (verse 47). Through His prophets God promised ancient Israel and Judah He would bring them back to their land at the coming of the Messiah.
But the prophets also reveal that, immediately before the rule of the Messiah, Jerusalem will once again be under the rule and influence of gentiles. Even today, with a Jewish state reestablished in the Holy Land, many other nations, along with the native Arab population, contest Jewish authority over the original city of Jerusalem (East Jerusalem). The Temple Mount remains under Islamic control. Jerusalem is still a troubled and divided city, a constant source of international friction.
Jerusalem at the time of the end
Jerusalem is the focal point of many significant end-time events foretold in the Bible. "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies," warned Jesus, "then know that its desolation is near . . . For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20-22).
Many prophecies seem to indicate these events will be triggered by the Jews designating a "holy place" in which they will again offer morning and evening animal sacrifices. This could so inflame other nations that the leader of the coalition of 10 rulers forming the beast power might intervene and set up an "abomination"-a biblical term for an idolatrous statue or other image-in this designated "holy place" (Daniel 12:9-11). This scenario seems to be the most likely way these prophecies could be fulfilled in light of current conditions.
Notice the terrible significance Jesus places on this event: "So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel-let the reader understand-then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now-and never to be equaled again" (Matthew 24:15-21, NIV).
Witnesses for God and Satan
Jerusalem will be the focus of other crucial events during this fateful time. God will send to Jerusalem two prophets-as His two witnesses-to prophesy and perform miracles on His behalf. Like the prophet Elijah in ancient Israel, they will testify to the whole world that it is deceived, that it has rejected the true God in favor of an idolatrous lifestyle reflecting Satan's evil influence.
"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days [31/2 years] . . . And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven [as did the prophet Elijah of old], so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire" (Revelation 11:3-6).
But Satan has anticipated this and is prepared to resist God. He will ready his own counterfeits of God's two witnesses. These two tools of Satan are prophetically designated as "the beast" and a "false prophet who worked signs in his [the beast's] presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image" (Revelation 19:20).
Paired off against each other for 42 months, or 31/2 years, will be these opposing pairs of spiritual leaders: one pair representing God, the other pair representing Satan and his system.
The beast of Revelation
It is important at this point to understand that in the book of Revelation the term beast can designate either Satan's governmental or religious system or the charismatic leader who is the human head of the governmental system. As in prophecies of Daniel, both the structure and its leader are represented as a beast that devours opponents.
Notice the influence the leader of the coalition of 10 rulers forming the beast power will wield over the world at that time. "And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?' And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (Revelation 13:3-7).
The offense of these saints in the eyes of Satan is their allegiance to God in the face of the devil's domination of the world. Satan will "make war with . . . [those] who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17), persecuting and killing those faithful Christians (Matthew 24:9).
Putting it in context
The events at the time of the end are the climax of trends that began in the Garden of Eden. There Satan persuaded Adam and Eve to defy God's commands. At the time of the end, God will draw a clear distinction between people who live by His commandments and those who devise their own religious practices and rules of life under Satan's influence. When all is said and done, the winners will be "those who do His commandments" and therefore "have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city [New Jerusalem]" (Revelation 22:14).
Let's next put Satan's determination to destroy God's people in a larger context. In a vision the apostle John watched God the Father give Jesus Christ, in the presence of many witnesses, the greater part of the book of Revelation. It was in the form of a scroll. This scroll contained descriptions of significant events related to Christ's second coming. But it was sealed with seven seals. Only Jesus Himself was found worthy to break the seals and open it to our understanding (Revelation 4-5).
John had made it clear in Revelation 1:10 that the "Lord's Day," or Day of the Lord, is the primary subject of these visions from Christ. They strip off the veil from the Old Testament prophecies that speak of God's judgment on the nations.
Opening the seals
In Revelation 6 Christ breaks the seven seals and unveils their meaning. The first four represent the religious deception, wars, famines and epidemics that lead up to the time of the end (Revelation 6:1-8). Satan's end-time persecution of God's people, as described in the fifth seal (verses 9-11), and the heavenly signs of the sixth seal (verses 12-16) also begin before "the great day of His wrath" (verse 17)-before the Day of the Lord.
The first six seals correspond to the signs Christ described in His Olivet prophecy, recorded in (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21). Jesus calls them "the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8). These precede the time of God's wrath, the Day of the Lord. Once these conditions and events begin, they continue to the very end of the age. The intensity of destruction rapidly increases from their cumulative effects as the end approaches.
The first six seals in Revelation 6 summarize major events and conditions that lead to the Day of the Lord. The remainder of the book of Revelation concentrates primarily on what happens during the Day of the Lord. At that time God's judgment will fall on the nations, which are deceived by Babylon the Great. This will occur just before Christ establishes the Kingdom of God.
Persecution, tribulation and heavenly signs
It is important that we understand the relationship between the fifth, sixth and seventh seals. The fifth seal describes Satan's war on God's people, the end-time persecution and martyrdom of many of those who remain faithful to God: "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then . . . it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed" (Revelation 6:9-11).
Jesus further described the persecution and martyrdom of His faithful servants at this bloody and dangerous time. "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:9-13).
Christ describes this frightening time as one of "great tribulation," an era unparalleled in history. "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (verses 21-22).
Jesus explains what must happen next. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (verse 29).
Now notice how this corresponds to the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-16: "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place" (Revelation 6:12-14).
"And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (verses 15-16).
The sixth seal announces and introduces the Day of the Lord. "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (verse 17). The prophet Joel confirms that the time of great tribulation and the heavenly signs precede the Day of the Lord. "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31).
The Day of the Lord arrives
The Day of the Lord is the time of God's wrath-His judgment on any who have set themselves against Him and His people. It is the time of his judgment and punishment of the world for its arrogance and disobedience to His commandments.
Notice what happens when Christ opens the next seal. "When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets" (Revelation 8:1-2).
This is the time written about since the beginning of written prophecy (Luke 21:22). Even the angels in heaven are silent while Jesus Christ breaks the awesome seventh seal. What it reveals is recorded in symbols portraying the major events of the Day of the Lord.
The judgments and punishments of the Day of the Lord are announced by seven angels blowing seven trumpets. The seven trumpets represent the totality of God's intervention in the affairs of man at the time of the end. Let's briefly look at the nature of the punishments that comprise that intervention.
The seven trumpet plagues
The punishments announced by the first four trumpets devastate the earth's ecology-mankind's environmental support system. A third of the trees are destroyed in the first trumpet disaster, a third of ocean life is destroyed in the second, a third of the world's freshwater supply becomes unusable in the third disaster, and it appears that the atmosphere is polluted and darkened in the fourth trumpet catastrophe (Revelation 8:6-12).
Though many die during these catastrophic events (verse 11), God is impressing on mankind that life on the planet exists at His pleasure. As the apostle Paul told the Athenians, "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God is reminding the world in the only language everyone can understand that He, the Creator of life, can also take life away.
The effects of the last three trumpets are then directed specifically toward the inhabitants of the earth, rather than just toward their surroundings. "And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!" (Revelation 8:13). Now God begins to punish people directly.
Under the punishments of the fifth trumpet, men are not killed but are tormented "for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man" (Revelation 9:5).
Then the command is given "to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million . . ." (Revelation 9:14-16).
Though these prophecies are couched in symbolic language, the astounding number of deaths caused by smoke, fire and brimstone indicate that the world's armies will finally unleash their horrifying weapons of mass destruction. God will allow this to happen. Then the massive devastation of human life will begin.
The indescribable carnage from the warfare is part of God's judgments on rebellious mankind. At that time angels will also release "the seven last plagues" in which "the wrath of God is complete" (Revelation 15:1). This time coincides with Christ's warning that nothing would survive if He did not return (Matthew 24:22).
A triumphant announcement
Finally, the most important event of all occurs at the time the final trumpet is blown: "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15).
At that time Christ will "destroy those who destroy the earth" (verse 18). This includes that entire system called Babylon the Great, whose satanic roots thread back to the dawn of human history: "Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore" (Revelation 18:21).
John describes Christ's victory at Jerusalem in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (see also Joel 3:2, 12-14) during the accompanying battle: "Now I saw [in a vision] heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war . . . And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh" (Revelation 19:11-21).
Something else must happen before Jesus Christ can begin His earthly reign: Satan must be restrained and removed from his dominance over the world. "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:1-2).
With organized opposition removed, Christ can now begin the work of bringing genuine peace and righteousness to mankind. In the next lesson we will see God's prophets' description of the incredible world Jesus Christ will build as He restores the rule and ways of God.
Proceed to lesson six (b) - The Abomination Of Desolation