What in the World is Going to Happen Part One
Topic: Eschatology Passage: Matthew 24:15–24:22
The Second Coming of Christ
Grace Community Church
March 17, 2019
What in the World is Going to Happen? Part One
We are in a series called The Second Coming of Christ and this morning we’re going to consider several significant events linked to the last days: the Great Tribulation, the rise of the antichrist, the mark of the beast, the 144,000, and the two mystery witnesses who are killed and raised from the dead. As you may gather, today’s message will be a little on the darker side, but next week I promise will be brighter as we consider Jesus’ second coming, including the question of whether the rapture happens before, after, or in the middle of the tribulation. Before we jump in, let me share a couple quick notes.
First, prophetic passages are very difficult to interpret at times and good Christians have disagreed on how to interpret them for centuries. For the most part I’m going to be sharing the interpretations that I’ve become convinced of, but you may interpret those passages differently and that’s ok. Eschatology (last days teaching) is fascinating, but it’s not central to the gospel so we have room to disagree.
Secondly, when possible, I believe in interpreting prophecies literally. There are times when images are clearly figurative or allegories, meant to convey something rather than literally describe something, but overall when possible I lean towards literal interpretations. With that said, let’s enter the tribulation.
- The (Great) Tribulation
The Bible tells us that there will be a period of time before Jesus returns called the Tribulation. This will be a time of cataclysmic trouble and suffering on the earth such as never has been seen before and it will last for seven years, but 3 ½ years in it gets significantly worse and becomes what Jesus calls the Great Tribulation. We read about it in Matt. 24:21-22.
21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Matt 24:21-22
Daniel also predicts the tribulation: …there shall be a time of trouble such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. Dan. 12:1
We see in Revelation the tribulation begins with Jesus opening seven seals, each representing God’s judgment on the earth. Many of these seven seal judgments are kind of normal cataclysmic events such as war, famine, and earthquakes only on a larger scale than ever seen before (beginning of birth pains). The first seal that is opened, though, is the appearance of a ruler who conquers the world (we’ll say more about him in a minute). The seventh seal introduces seven more judgments represented by seven angels blowing seven trumpets. These trumpet judgments are even more intense than the seven seal judgments with large portions of the earth being destroyed and vast numbers of people suffering and dying. The seventh trumpet seems to be the visible collision of the kingdom of Christ and the kingdoms of this earth. The fury of God will be more visibly seen than ever before, leading to the final judgments coming in the form of seven bowls of God’s wrath being poured out. At this point the end of the world is very near, but incredibly through all of this, most people will not acknowledge their wickedness or repent of their sin. They will blame God and curse God but they will not turn to God.
The tribulation represents the climax of several things at once: man’s dream of being his own god and ruling the world under the banner of humanism, Satan’s behind the scenes pulling of the strings to recreate his own hellish kingdom on earth, God’s pouring out of the wrath and judgment He has been restraining throughout history, and His final appeal to any who will repent of their sin, turn to Him, and be saved. The tribulation, and in particular the Great Tribulation (the last three and a half years) are the ever increasing, ever more rapid, birth pains that Jesus talks about. The world is in labor – history is in labor – to give birth to Christ’s deliverance for those who trust in him and judgment for those who reject him.
- The Antichrist, the one world government, and the mark of the Beast
The tribulation begins with the first seal being opened by Jesus and that seal is the appearance of a ruler riding on a white horse and conquering the world. This ruler is at various times in scripture called the antichrist, the man of perdition, or the beast. The white horse indicates that at first the antichrist will appear to be a great leader bringing peace to the world. The world will be in awe of his military might and will worship him as if he were a god. He will be Satan’s substitute for Jesus, looking like a messiah but in fact, the most completely demon possessed man who ever lived. Just as Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and did signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit, so too the antichrist will be filled with the devil and will do powerful signs and wonders by the power of Satan. It’s not surprising that he will appear as a man of peace at first because Satan often appears as an angel of light.
The antichrist will seem to bring peace to a world on the brink of crisis. The Middle East will almost certainly be at the center of this conflict, and the antichrist will make a peace accord with Israel and it will seem like war and conflict are averted. Just as Neville Chamberlain declared, peace for our time…just before the world was plunged into WWII, the world will be saying “peace and safety at last” just before destruction comes upon them (1 Thess. 5:3). The antichrist will make a covenant of peace with Israel that will last for the first 3 ½ years of the tribulation. Then in the middle of the tribulation, he is going to enter the Jewish temple and desecrate it and declare himself to be God. This is the abomination of desolation that Daniel, Jesus, and Paul speak of.
Jesus says this about him:
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Matt. 24:15-16
Daniel says this:
27 And he (antichrist) shall make a strong covenant with many for one week (that is, a week of years or seven years), and for half of the week (that is, the second half of the seven years) he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” Dan. 9:27
3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come (speaking of the Day of the Lord), unless
the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God… 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 2 Thess. 2:3-10
When the antichrist desolates the temple, that is when the great tribulation begins Jesus says. Now, you may have noticed there is a massive missing piece: the Jewish temple was destroyed and never rebuilt. If my literal interpretation of this is correct then the Jews will need to rebuild the temple before this can happen. I think that is something to watch for in the news. See that happen, look up!
Through overwhelming might and unparalleled charisma the antichrist will establish a one world government. Remember last week as we looked at the arc of history how since the tower of Babel there has been a dream in the heart of mankind to unify the world under a humanistic banner. Today we know it as globalism. In the 90’s George H W Bush and Mikhail Gorbechev called it the New World Order. Bush spoke of this hope this way: "A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known". This new world order, new globalism, will be finally be realized under the antichrist’s rule.
The antichrist is given his power by Satan and another figure, called the false prophet in Rev. 16:13 will come alongside of the antichrist and also do wonders to convince and control people. So you have this unholy trinity: Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet. Nothing Satan does is original – it’s always a perverted imitation of God’s perfectness. Remember Satan’s first sin was “I will be like God the most High” – in all of this he’s trying to be God but the best he can do is a twisted, perverted imitation.
Most of you have probably heard of the mark of the beast: 666. The mark of the beast is also a devilish imitation of God. The Bible tells us that everyone who belongs to Jesus is sealed by the Holy Spirit.
In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Eph. 1:13-14
In Revelation 7 John sees this in his vision:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. Rev. 7:1-4
And again in Rev. 14:1
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. Rev. 14:1
The mark of the beast is Satan’s substitute for God’s sealing mark on His people. Rev. 13 says: 16 It (the beast) also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666. Rev. 13:16-18
In Rev. 14 we read these terrifying words:
9 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, 10 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. 11 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.” Rev. 14:9-11
In the same way that God’s seal marks us as God’s possession and guarantees and protects us for eternal life, the mark of the beast marks those who accept it as belonging to Satan and guarantees and dooms them for hell. What does the number 666 stand for? The number 6 represents man who was created on the 6th day. A trinity of 6’s - 666 - is man’s attempt to get to completion (the number 7) by our own effort. The mark of the beast will symbolize man’s attempt to be complete our own godhood.
In the midst of all this, two other groupings come to our attention. The first is the 144,000 Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel. Who are they? I believe they are literal people, though the number 144,000 might be representative of a perfect 12 squared (12 tribes x 12,000). 12 represents completeness and God’s authority and rule through man. 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, etc.
I have always believed that God isn’t done with the nation Israel and even though they have rejected their Messiah for a period of time there’s going to be a nationwide revival of Jew’s who believe in their Messiah at last. God’s plan of redemption began with the nation of Israel, and He promises He will never forget His people. So it will come back full circle. Just as Jesus’ gospel and the church began with Jews, it will end with Jews.
Then there are two mysterious witnesses who show up just days before Christ returns. Let’s read their strange story in Rev. 11:3-13
And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days (3 ½ Jewish years), clothed in sackcloth.” 4 They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” 5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. 6 They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8 Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
11 But after the three and a half days the breath[b] of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.
13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
Who are they? We aren’t told. Some speculate that it is Moses and Elijah representing the Law and the Prophets pointing to Jesus. Good thought. Others speculate that it will be Enoch and Elijah because for some odd reason they are the only two men in history who never died but were taken up to heaven and the Bible says it’s appointed unto men to die and then the judgment. So perhaps they bypassed death the first time cause they would be sent to earth to die at the hands of the antichrist. I like that theory. But we don’t know. We do know that their purpose is to witness to the glory, power, and Lordship of Jesus over the earth during the worst 3 ½ years of earth’s history. “They stand before the Lord of the earth.” And they drive this godless, rebellious world crazy. Their message infuriates the world and the antichrist but for a time they cannot be touched until finally the antichrist has power to kill them. When they are killed there is a worldwide celebration for three and a half days as their bodies are left in the street for people to look at. It will be Christmas in July as people send each other gifts cause these two trouble-makers are dead.
But then…they will rise from the dead, and the celebration will turn to terror. Then God will call them up with the words, “Come up here.” There will be a massive earthquake, but there will also be many people who will give glory to God.
This time will be a cataclysmic, devastating time beyond any this earth has ever known. Jesus said we will be on the verge of eliminating all life off the face of the earth if he did not interrupt it with his return. That’s where the devil always goes: he comes to rob, kill, and destroy. Our mad pursuit of being our own gods will lead us down the broad path to destruction.
As we close: on Friday, after finishing this message, I felt I needed to get outside to clear my head of antichrist and Satan and tribulation. It was a beautiful day – in the 60’s and the sun was shining and birds chirping. It was a contrast to all I had been studying about the dark last days of history. Thought came to me: all that is beautiful and glorious in the world – and there’s a lot – reflects God the Creator. All that is good and noble in men - and there’s a lot – reflects the image of God in us. All that is dark and horrific about this world and all that is evil and horrifying in men – and there is a lot – reflects the devil and sin at work.
Jesus said there are two paths. A broad path that leads to destruction that many people find. And a narrow path that leads to life and few there are who find it. The broad path is to follow the direction of the world cause it’s headed for destruction. The narrow path is to trust and follow Jesus and all who do are headed for life. And some during this dark time will turn to Christ and trust in him and be saved.
It’s the path of faith and trust in Jesus and it leads to eternal life. Don’t wait or put off trusting in Jesus, trust in him today.