The Great Tribulation

September 24, 2023 / No. 4212M

Dear Radio Friends,

We have learned of the great antichristian world-power that will rule the world. We have alluded several times to the persecution that this kingdom will level against the true church of Christ. Today we address this important subject.

Although the Tribulation is mentioned in a number of passages of Scripture, we come back to the very clear teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24. Jesus speaks of the final Tribulation, or persecution of the church, in a couple of different places in this chapter. In today’s broadcast, we are going to examine these verses.

First of all, Matthew 24:9 and 10: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” The other two verses we consider are verses 21 and 22: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” 

It is striking that the term Jesus uses in verse 21 to describe what will take place during the reign of Antichrist is not persecution. We are told that in the last days, under the reign of Antichrist, there will be tribulation for the church. Now, the term “tribulation” does not exclude the idea of persecution, as some say it does. But the term “tribulation” actually means a “pressing together.” As such, it refers to oppression and distress. For example, the rave today is a garbage compactor. It is a container into which one can toss a can or milk carton or box or garbage, and then all one needs to do is to press a button and the sides of the container crush together everything in it. Well, that is how “tribulation” must be interpreted. In the end times, the wicked world, and especially the false Christian church, will press in on the church of Jesus Christ. The pressure will start slowly, and will increase in intensity as time goes on. The false church and the political power of this world will become increasingly hostile toward the true Christ. They will put increasingly more pressure on the believer to renounce his brand of Christianity and join with them in their common cause. As the pressure is placed on the true church, there will be those who will come out of it—give in to the pressure. They will, so to speak, squeeze out. But those who remain firm in the truth of God’s Word, faithful to the true God and Christ, will finally be squeezed together so tightly that they will no longer be given space in this world.

The pressure will be placed upon God’s people because, Jesus says in verse 9, we will be hated for Christ’s sake. This world, which pronounces its love for all humankind and boasts of its tolerance of all cultures, religions, and life-styles, will not be so kind to those who stand on the Scriptures. When it comes to the true church, there will be little if any tolerance in this world. This is true because this world is going to hate us. That is the strong terminology that Jesus uses. They of this world will hate us. This term “hate” in the Greek is very telling. It speaks of the fact that the people of this unbelieving world will detest the true Christian. For that reason, they will have no sympathy toward him. Through his skill in deceiving this world, the Antichrist and the false church will convince this world that the believer has brought all of this upon himself. No one will be interested in protecting the church. No one will be interested in the cause of truth anymore. And, as a result, people will simply shake their heads at us, wave us off, and will be totally baffled as to why these radical Christians go on maintaining what they do. The unbelieving world will detest the truth and, therefore, will hate God’s people. And Jesus says that this will be true because we belong to Him. “You will be hated for my sake,” Christ tells us. 

Surely, we can expect no different, can we? Jesus teaches us this reality in John 15:18-21: “If we were of this world, the world would love us,” Jesus explains. If we believed in the god and the christ of this wicked world, the world would love us, they would have no trouble with us. For that reason the world would embrace us, and we would belong to their kingdom. But because we love the Christ of the Scriptures, the world will hate us. That, in turn, will finally result in persecution. Persecution will be the last ounce of pressure put on the child of God, the final squeeze, so to speak. Not only will his place in this present world become smaller, but his place will be taken away. The final tribulation, therefore, will result in what we are taught at the beginning of verse 9: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you.”

We will be afflicted. Interestingly, this is the same word used for tribulation. The time will come when we will be oppressed or crushed to our hurt. The particular way we are crushed is recorded for us in Revelation 13:16, 17: “And he [the Antichrist] causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Those who will not accept the false Christianity of the antichristian kingdom and the antichristian world-power will not be allowed to have that mark, whatever it might be. And they will not be able to buy or sell. Everyone in the world will be living life to its fullest. But the child of God will be pushed out. 

And everyone will be indifferent to his plight. “It’s his own fault,” they will think. And he and his children will slowly, but surely, starve. He cannot buy food. He cannot sell what he owns to earn money. His paycheck will be withheld. You talk about affliction or oppression, you talk about being an outcast of society—such is the affliction we will have to suffer, among other torments.

It is also true, however, that the tribulation will develop to the point that some will even be killed by the authorities. It need not be a mugging or a gang-slaying. The government will need to silence the witness of the church as it continues to preach the gospel. Imprisonment will be used, even death when necessary. So much will the wicked world hate the child of God.

In connection with the perilous times of the last days, Paul writes in II Timothy 3:12, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Persecution will be a reality at the end of time. The world is not developing under the false church into a better place to live. It is rapidly developing into a place where death will come to God’s people by means of persecution.

It is often asked, just what type of persecution are we looking for at the end of time? Other than starving, as we noticed in Revelation 13, the Bible does not relate to us how we will be persecuted. But Jesus does make clear that such persecution of believers at the end of time will not stop short of death. They will kill you, Jesus says. 

This question really leads us into the next point Christ makes in the passage we consider. He tells us that this tribulation will be great. He teaches us in Matthew 24:21, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” We will see in the days of the Antichrist a tribulation, a pressing together of the true church, that has never been witnessed before. There have been many periods in the history of the church when there was sore persecution for the church. The blood of the martyrs flowed in the streets of Rome and in other early persecutions. Yet, Jesus said that the tribulations of the last days will be so great that there will never have been one like it before or ever shall be after it, so great will it be.

Well, dear listeners, there were some horribly cruel and barbarous persecutions that have taken place in the past. Can we expect such barbarous treatment, too, as a church of Christ at the end of time? All persecution is barbaric. They can never say that the willful slaying of people is civilized and tastefully done. But I do not think that when Jesus uses the term “great” here in Matthew 24 He means that the Antichrist is going to come up with some new and innovative ways to torture people and that these ways are going to be so horrific that they will cause excruciating pain beyond all imagination. That is not the idea of great, in verse 21. Rather, this word refers to the truth that this persecution will affect Christ’s true church and believers everywhere in this entire world. No one will be able to escape this tribulation. The Antichrist will have control over all peoples and nations of the earth. Christians in every land and nation will be persecuted for Christ’s sake. The church universal will be persecuted for the sake of Christ.

That is what is meant by the great Tribulation. It will affect the whole church—not just the church in a few countries. In past persecutions, Christians were able to flee to another country, or even city, to escape the persecution. That will not be the case in this final tribulation. Jesus says we will be hated of all nations. There is not a nation that will show pity to the child of God, to true believers. There will be no pity shown in pagan countries, of course. There never has been pity shown there. Even now there is persecution of Christians in these lands and countries. But included in this will be those countries of this world that are Christian in name—those countries out of which the Antichrist arises and who are given over to false Christianity, they will also persecute the true church. All nations, Jesus says, will hate us. That is first of all what makes this tribulation of the last day so great.

But there is something else that will contribute to the pain and sorrow of the great Tribulation. It is something that makes persecution almost unbearable. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 24:10: “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” Many shall be offended, Jesus tells us. And by this word “offended,” He means they will turn on one they ought to support. Many friends and relatives will be convinced by the Antichrist and the false church that they ought not to trust us. Through the powerful and convincing words and signs of the false church, they will be persuaded to desert and forsake us. They will turn on us in distrust. 

There is that word “hated” again. Jesus says they will hate one another. And the result of this is that they will betray the people of God. They will turn us in to authorities to be persecuted. They will give us up. Our world as we knew it will be turned upside-down. Even family members will turn on the faithful saints who continue to maintain the truths of Scripture. 

Listen to what Jesus says to us in Matthew 10:34-36: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” This is what will make the Tribulation of the last day so great. There will be those whom we thought were indeed believers together with us. They may even be members of the church in this world with us. But persecution has a way of sifting the members of the church. It has a way of separating the chaff from the wheat. Why suffer for the brand of Christianity true believers have when one can join himself to others who also claim to be Christians? Anger, division, strife in the home and the church and among friends will result. Man’s enemies will be those of his own household. Brother will turn on brother and betray him. Parents, fathers and mothers, will turn on children; or children on parents. In-laws will turn against extended family. Friends will betray us. The pressure placed on the child of God will be tremendous. 

Will you turn away from the Christ you profess to love? Will you turn your backs on the Scriptures and the God and the Christ that are taught in them? Are you a believer? Believers cling to the sovereign God of heaven and earth and to the Christ who has delivered them from sin. Believers are those who maintain the hard line of the Scriptures because those Scriptures contain truth. Believers do not compromise the gospel of salvation. They do not redefine it in human terms. They do not change the language of Scripture to fit in with the humanism that prevails in our unbelieving world. The believer knows his Bible and what it teaches over against the many heresies that rob God of His glory and Jesus Christ of His power. The day approaches that that great sifting of the church will take place.

The day comes when God will separate the wheat from the tares in the church. Where will you stand? Where will I stand?

Oh, the pain of being forsaken by those whom we love. Even betrayed by them. Oh, the pressure that will be placed on the child of God to turn from faith and take on himself the mark of the Antichrist. 

Who can stand? In fact, Christ asks, “When I return, will there be faith in the earth?” Yes, there will be faith in the earth. God has chosen unto Himself a church. The members of that church are His elect, those whom He has chosen in Christ from before the beginning of this world. These elect will have been called and saved out of all of the nations of the earth. They will be living in faith in those days of tribulation. And these God will preserve. No man is able to pluck them out of His hand. God is for them; who can be against them? But these elect will be scattered and few in the earth. The number of the saved among the people of this world will be small and sorely despised. But they will still be there. Christ will still gather His people.

He does this unto the very end of time. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:22, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” The days of tribulation will be shortened. They will not last long. It is but a short period of time. Why? Because otherwise there would not be any left in the earth who believe. The elect would be destroyed from among flesh. That means no flesh would be saved any longer. For that reason Christ will bring these days to an end quickly—in order that He might return and usher in His eternal kingdom of glory. For the elect’s sake the days will be shortened.

Do I have reason to fear? Do I have reason to think that I will not be able to stand in that day in faith? God holds His people in His almighty hand. God leads. God directs. And God preserves His people. We need not fear in that day. We need to trust. All things work together for our good.

And then the child of God will with uplifted head look for the coming of His Savior. And He will come. He has promised us that. And all things indicate it. So it is our prayer, is it not, “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly.”

Let us pray.

Father in heaven, we look for that coming of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the clouds of heaven. We realize that there will come a time of tribulation before that coming of Christ. By nature we fear, by nature we do not look forward to those days. And yet we know that they must come. We pray that Thou wilt extend Thy hand of preserving grace upon us, to give us the necessary strength to stand now. And when we stand now, then Thou wilt see to it that we will stand then, too. Forgive us of our weaknesses and our failures. Give us the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ. And go with us, Father, holding us in Thy almighty hand. For Jesus’ sake alone we pray, Amen.