The Terrible Tribulation


The Terrible Tribulation

March 11th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM

Matthew 24:21-31

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. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Print Sermon
Play Audio

Show References:


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 24:21-31

3-11-84    8:15 a.m.


And the Lord no less aboundingly bless the throng in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas and the uncounted multitudes of you who share the hour on the radio.  This is the pastor bringing the message.  It is entitled The Terrible Tribulation.  It is next to the last in the doctrinal series on eschatology; this section on the beginning of the end of the world.  Next Sunday morning will be the concluding message in this section on the beginning of the end.  It will be entitled The Rise, Reign, and Ruin of the Antichrist, the last great world ruler.

The message this morning: The Terrible Tribulation, in Matthew 24, beginning at verse 21.  Matthew chapter 24, this is the great apocalyptic discourse of our Savior, Matthew chapter 24, verse 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—

verse 22—

And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved—

verse 29—

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not cast her light.

[Matthew 24:21-22, 29]

In other words, in other places our Lord speaks of the sun turning dark black, like sackcloth of ashes, and the moon turning to blood [Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:31].  I think that refers to the great final battle of Armageddon that ends this tribulation.  The smoke of the earth blots out the sun, and the red of the flaming fire makes the moon look crimson—verse 30:

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven:

and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,

and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

[Matthew 24:30]

That is the text of the Revelation.  Revelation 1 verse 7:

Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him,

and they also who pierced Him: and the tribes and families of the earth shall wail and mourn because of Him.

[Revelation 1:7]

That’s exactly what Jesus says here, verse 31:

And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet,

and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

[Matthew 24:31]

The Great Tribulation.

We read in Genesis 9:18, “And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth.”  These are the three sons of Noah, and of them was the whole earth overspread.  Everybody who lives in this earth, all inhabitants of all the nations of the world, come from one of those three sons.  They’re either Semitic—sons of Shem—or they’re Hamites—sons of Ham—or they’re Japhethites—they’re the sons and children of Japheth.

Now the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:32, divides all of the inhabitants of the world into these three groups: Jews, Gentiles, and the church—made both of Jews and Gentiles.   And what we shall do in our study this morning is we shall speak of these three groups—the Jew, the Gentile, and the church—as each one enters the great tribulation.  And we shall study them in the order that Paul names them: first, the Jew; second, the Gentile; and third, the church.

In Matthew 24:34, in this apocalyptic address of our Lord, He says, “Verily I say unto you, This genea shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”  And [1 Peter 2 and verse 9] uses another form of that word genea.  “Ye are a chosen genos—ye are a chosen generation—an holy nation, a peculiar people” [1 Peter 2:9].  That word genea and that word genos, coming from the same root, it says “race, descent, offspring, people, families, stock, nation, kind, species.”  Our Lord says that this Jew is going to be here until He comes again [Matthew 24:34].  This is one of the miracles of all history.  And it’s one of the miracles that we witness today: the survival of the Jewish nation.

God promised that.  In Jeremiah 31:35 He says:

Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night … If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then shall the seed of Israel also cease from being a nation before Me.

[Jeremiah 31:35-36]

God says as long as that sun is up there in the sky and as long as that moon is shining by night, just so long will there be a nation of Israel before Me.  You can’t name an ancient nation that still lives today.

I used to go through all those “-ites”, those Moabites, and Hittites, Jebusites, Amonites, all of those “-ites.”  They’ve disappeared so long ago that you never heard of anybody who ever saw anybody who ever heard of anybody who ever saw anybody who ever saw a Hittite or an Ammonite.  You never did.  But God said, “The Jew will be here till I come again” [Matthew 24:34].  And it concerns that Jewish nation that the terrible tribulation so tragically surrounds [Jeremiah 30:7].

I have here a part, a study, of the survival of that Jewish nation.  In 722 BC the northern tribes were carried into Assyria [2 Kings 17:5-6, 18].  In 587 BC the southern two tribes were carried into Babylonia [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21].  Then in that testamental period between the Testaments, Antiochus Epiphanes, in about 168 BC, killed forty thousand of those Jews and sold an equal number into slavery.  In 68 AD twenty thousand of them were killed in Caesarea in a single day, and the Syrians of Damascus cut the throats of ten thousand more in a single day.

And the great siege of 70 AD, when Titus shut up Jerusalem in its final death pang, they cast over the wall over one hundred thousand corpses.  When the city is finally fell, one hundred thousand more were sold into slavery and more than a million perished.  Under the Emperor Hadrian, the Caesar who reigned after 117 AD, the Romans destroyed nine hundred eighty-five towns in Palestine and sold five hundred and eighty thousand men into slavery.

In the Crusades, in 1096 AD and following, they not only fought for the holy places that the Muslims contain, but they also almost exterminated the Jew from Europe.  As late as the thirteenth century, the French and the English governments expelled and wiped out every Jewish community in England and in France.  In 1492 when Columbus discovered America, practically all of the Jews were expelled from Western Europe.

When Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, there was not one single Jew in all of England.  And in our day, to come briefly down to our time, in our day, we have witnessed the slaughter and the murder of more than six million Jews in Western Europe.

Now it is the pressure and the duress of the persecution of the Jew that drives him back to his homeland.  According to the Scriptures, this pressure on the Jew will increase.    They will be regathered in the Palestine, into Israel, a second time.  In Isaiah 11, verse 11, we read:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which are left. . . . And He shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

[Isaiah 11:11-12]

The first gathering, the first return, was from the Babylonian captivity [Ezra 1:1-4; Zechariah 2:6-7].  The second gathering of Israel, the second return, will be at the end of the age, when God regathers those people again [Ezekiel 36:24].  This prophecy is oft repeated in the Bible: in Jeremiah 16:15 it is said and Isaiah 60:1-22 it is described.  In [Ezekiel 34:1-28] it is described; in Amos 9:14-15 it is described.

It is a sign, the returning of Israel, the return, the regathering of the Jew to Palestine, it is a sign of the coming of the end.  In this apocalyptic discourse the Lord said, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is tender, and putteth forth leaves, you know that summer is near:  So likewise ye, when you shall see these things, know that the end is coming; it is even at the door” [Matthew 24:32-33].  This return of the Jews to Israel, Jesus says, is a sign of the coming of the end.

The fig tree is a sign of Israel.

  • In Luke 13:6-9 we read it.
  • In Joel 1:7, 12 we read it.
  • In Jeremiah 24:1-10 it is described; the fig tree is a picture of Israel.

And Jesus says when you see that fig tree begin to bud, know that the end is near.

  • In 1882 there were 24,000 Jews in Palestine out of a population of 624,000.
  • In 1890 there were 47,000 Jews in Israel.
  • In 1914 there were 85,000.
  • In 1927, 150,000.
  • In 1931, 175,000.
  • In 1936, 404,000.
  • In 1941, 505,000.
  • In 1945, 600,000.
  • In 1948, when the nation was born, there were 650,000 Jews in Palestine and today there are toward 3,000,000 Jews in Israel.  It is the sign of the budding of the fig tree; Jesus said when you see that, when you see that, know that the end is coming nigh.

But the greatest agony of Israel is yet to come.  The last chapter of the Book of Daniel, the twelfth chapter in verse 4, it reads, “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end” [Daniel 12:4].  And verse 9, “And the Lord said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” [Daniel 12:9]—a sealed book.

Now in the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation that sealed book is opened, and you read the opening of the first four seals just a moment ago [Revelation 6:1-7].  The seals are opened, beginning in Revelation chapter 6.  And that is what Jeremiah 30:7 says “is the time of Jacob’s trouble,” it’s the time of the great tribulation for the Jewish nation.

[Mathew 24: 21] says, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world.”  And Revelation 12:12 says when Satan is cast out, he persecuted the woman, Israel, who gave birth to the man Child Christ; he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child, the Lord Jesus” [Revelation 12:12-13].  This persecution is the time period in Daniel 9:24-27, the seventieth week of Daniel.  Daniel 9:24 reads, “Seventy weeks of years are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city.”  This is all the time there is, 490 years, until the end of the world.

Now the seventy weeks of years is divided into three parts.

  • First: seven weeks of years—49 years—to rebuild Jerusalem from the permissive commandment of Artaxerxes, which was issued in 445 BC.
  • Second: 62 further weeks—434 years—until Messiah is cut off, until He is slain.
  • That brings us to 32 AD.  And there is one week remaining until the end of the world.  And that week is set apart by itself in the prophecy of Daniel.

In Daniel 9:24, seven things are to come to pass in this last seventieth week:

  • One: transgression will be ended.
  • Two: sin will be no more.
  • Three: reconciliation will be made for all iniquity.
  • Four: everlasting righteousness will be brought in.
  • Five: the vision of Daniel will be brought to reality.
  • Six: the prophecies concerning Israel will be fulfilled.
  • And seven: the most holy Messiah King will be anointed in the most Holy of Holies in the millennial kingdom.

Now not one of these seven has come to pass, not one.  All seven of them are future.  And this last concluding week in the history of Israel is set apart by itself and is yet to come [Daniel 9:27].

That last concluding week, the seventieth week of Daniel, is the Revelation.  That’s Revelation chapter 6 through 19 [Revelation 6:1-19:21].  It’s the terrible tribulation.  And the Jew, Israel, shall enter that week, that seven years in what Jeremiah calls the time of Jacob’s trouble [Jeremiah 30:7].  And when you read the Revelation, you’re reading of the tragedy of those days as it overwhelms the Jewish nation.

Number two: the Gentiles.  The Gentiles, our people, and the terrible tribulation; there are three characteristics of the tribulation that deeply affect the whole world, all the Gentile nations of the world.  Number one: all nations and peoples are brought under the judgments of Almighty God [Joel 3:2].  The tribulation affects the entire population of all the nations of the world.

Number two characteristic of the Gentiles in the tribulation:  it is the hopelessness and the helplessness of the world, of all men and of all the nations, that bring to pass the ruler and the leader of those terrible and tragic days.  It is the worldwide persecution of the Jew, I have said, that drives him back to Palestine.  He doesn’t have any home anywhere, and he goes back to Palestine, as he is now, seeking escape from, mostly now, the terrible persecutions of Eastern Europe—Russia and the communist world.

Now, it is the despair of men before the problems of the world—war, economic injustice, violence, terrorism—that drives the Jewish people and the world to accept the one leader who promises to lead them to peace, prosperity, and safety [1 Thessalonians 5:3].  In the Book of the Revelation he is called the “beast”, the “Antichrist” [Revelation 13:1-10].  It’s because of the despair of the world to solve its problems that they finally follow this man who says, “I have the answer.”

He makes a covenant with the Jews, the oppressed Jews.  According to Daniel 9:27, he promises peace, and hope, and prosperity, and safety for them.  And the Jewish nation accepts him and follows him.  He is invincible in his world quest for universal power according to Revelation 6:1-2 and Revelation 13:1-8.  With the church raptured, gone [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18], he has no hindrance in his conquest and his rise to power.  Every hope is expressed in him, not in God.

The political process will bring peace, prosperity, and progress universally.  Men don’t look to God for the answer, they look to the political process, and I see that more and more in America.  We’re ruling God out of the school, ruling God out of the process, ruling God out of the national life of our people, and more and more we’re depending upon the government to solve all the problems of the world.  The Bible says that will increase until finally men read God out of their lives altogether and depend upon the political process to solve the insoluble problems that the world will increasingly face [Daniel 12:4].

Then in the middle of that week [Daniel 9:27], after three and a half years, 42 months, 1,260 days, a time, times, and half a time [Daniel 7:25], this man who is the great leader who promised to bring peace and prosperity to all mankind, he becomes enamored with his own success, and he becomes invincible in his greatness.  And he finally proclaims himself as God, and he sits in the temple as God, 2 Thessalonians 2:4.

You know, in these days past when I was a youth I looked upon those verses in the Bible and thought, “I don’t think God knows what He is talking about.  I just can’t imagine such inanity as that.”  Then I lived to see Hitler, lived to see Hitler.  Just like I mentioned last week, that wonderful man Reinhold Kerstan, who was a member of the Nazi youth, young fellow getting ready to fight, he looked upon Hitler as God.  And Hitler looked upon himself as invincible.  This man, this final leader of the world, will look upon himself as invincible.

Now look, the world system of religion supports it.  You’re going to have a whole vast religious system that supports it, just like Hitler had when he got rid of all the recalcitrants there in the evangelical church.   According to Revelation 13:11-15 and 17:1-18, the world system religion will support that man.  He will lead us out.

Number two: the economic coercion of the world will uphold him.  You can’t buy or sell without his mark, Revelation 13:16-17.  Did you know the providences of life are beyond any way that I could ever understand if I didn’t see it with myself.  When I was in Istanbul I was the guest in the home of President Black, the president of Robert College, a Christian college, a Presbyterian college in Istanbul.  He had married a Bulgarian and had lived in Bulgaria, and he came down there from Bulgaria.  He was in Bulgaria, he told me, when the communists took over the country.  And he said, “Do you know what is the most powerful weapon of coercion in the world?”

Well, I never had thought about it; I said, “No.”

He said, “It’s a ration card.”

It’s a little simple ration card.  You can’t work, you can’t live, you can’t exist without that ration card, and the communists issue you the ration card.  The economic coercion will uphold him.

And third: Satan will uphold him and support him.  He’s Satan’s final masterpiece.  There have been many despotic rulers of the world such as Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane, and Caesar, and Napoleon, and Hitler, but there’ve been none like this man.  And the awesome persecution of those who refuse to bow down before him is described in the Revelation—the Jewish remnant and the evangelical people who’ve been converted by them and in Revelation 7:14 it’s called hē thlipsis hē megalē, the tribulation, the great.

But the strangest thing in the hands of God, the third characteristic of the tribulation:  it brings worldwide revival.  Isn’t that unbelievable?  In the seventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation there are sealed one hundred forty-four thousand Jewish evangelists, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes.  An unnumbered multitudes are won to the Lord [Revelation 7:9-15].

I wish I had time for us to read together that seventh chapter.  That’s one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, describing the marvelous revival that sweeps over the world.  And so many people are saved that the Book says, in Revelation 7:9-15, that no man can number them.  Remember the possibility of revival is always present.  There is no time so dark, there’s no era so hopeless but that great revival is possible, even in the terrible tribulation.

Now third: we’ve spoken of the Jew as he enters the great tribulation [Daniel 9:27]; we’ve spoken of the Gentiles as they’ve entered the great tribulation [Revelation 13:16-17];  now we speak of the church.  This age of the church continues until Romans 11:25.  Quote: “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in,” plērōma, “the full number of the Gentiles.”  When that last sinner comes down the aisle, repenting and accepting Jesus as his Savior—there’s a certain number that God has written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Romans 11:25].  It doesn’t surprise God when you gave your heart to Jesus; didn’t surprise God when you were saved.  He had your name written there in the Book of Life from the foundation of the earth [Revelation 17:8].  And when the last one comes down this aisle, plērōma, when “the full number of the Gentiles” be come in, then the end of the age of the church is come [Romans 11:25].  This age of the church, this age of grace and of the preaching of the gospel is closed by the rapture.  The church is caught up and taken to heaven, according to many passages in the Bible, especially 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Now this age of the church is a parenthesis, an interlude, a gap between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of Daniel [Daniel 9:26-27].  The prophets never saw it.  God never revealed it to them; He kept it a secret.  God calls it a mustērion in His heart [Ephesians 3:2-11].  The prophets spoke of the kingdom, of the Messiah, of Israel, they prophesied of Jerusalem, of the temple, of the tribulation, but they never ever broached anything of the church.  The secret, the mustērion, of the church of God is revealed to His apostles.  The world never saw it; God kept it a secret until He revealed it to His apostles [Ephesians 3:5].  That’s according to Romans 11:25-26, according to Romans: 16:25-26, according to Ephesians 3:4, and 9 and according to Colossians 1:26.  The church is not the subject of prophecy; it’s the subject of revelation.  We are living, we are living between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of Daniel [Daniel 9:26-27].

The church is raptured to heaven just before the beginning of the tribulation—that’s in Revelation 4:1—and she remains there for the bema, the great judgment seat [Revelation 20:11-15], and for the marriage of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9], until the tribulation down here on earth is past [Revelation 19:20-21].  It is during the final great battle of earth’s armies, the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:16, 19:17-19], that the church returns to earth with her conquering Lord.  That’s Revelation 19:11-21.  In the Revelation, the great tribulation closes with a battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:16, 19:17-19], and in that day of that awful battle, the church comes back to earth with her Lord.

Who gathers these armies together in that battle of Armageddon?  Revelation 16:13-14:

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon—

that’s Satan—

and out of the mouth of the beast—

that’s Antichrist—

and out of the mouth of the false prophet—

the false system of religion—

They go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

[Revelation 16:13-14]

Where are they gathered?  Revelation 16:16, “And he gathered them together into a place called in Hebrew tongue,” har, which is mountain, megiddo—the “mountain of Mageddon.”  The Greeks when they get through with that translation call it “Armageddon.”

Who is involved in that last great battle?  The armies of the whole earth.  The European confederation of ten nations is there, Revelation 13 and 17; the northern confederacy led by Russia, Gog and Magog are there, Ezekiel 38 and 39; the Southern confederacy of nations led by Egypt and Africa, Daniel 11, are there; the confederation of the East, one of whose armies number two hundred million men, Revelation 9:16 says, and [Revelation 16:12] who is the leading world figure in this conflict?  It is the beast, the Antichrist.  In Revelation 17:13, “These kings of the earth shall give to him their power and their strength.”

What is the battle like?  The description of this final battle is mentioned again and again and again in the Bible; in Joel the second chapter, “Blow ye the trumpet” [Joel 2:15], I don’t have time.  In the second chapter of Joel the great battle is described [Joel 2:20].

In Isaiah 63:1 the battle is described.  The Lord is described as being covered with blood, and He comes from Bozrah in Edom with His garments dyed with blood [Isaiah 63:1-3]. And when you measure the distance from Megiddo, Armageddon to Bozrah in Edom, the Bible says in [Revelation 14:20] that the blood is to the horses’ bridles, to the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs, a thousand and six hundred furlongs.  That’s exactly two hundred miles.  And when you measure from Megiddo in the north to Bozrah in the south, it’s exactly a thousand six hundred furlongs; it’s exactly two hundred miles.

I want to read a description to you in the Bible of the atomic warfare of the battle of Armageddon.  In Zechariah 14, verse 12, now you look at this:

And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand [upon] their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.

[Zechariah 14:12]

I was in Hiroshima, Hiroshima as they call it over there, not long after that bomb was dropped; and that exact thing happens under atomic warfare.  It is then that the returning Christ, with His church:

I saw heaven opened.

And I saw the Beast taken and the false prophet and they were cast into the lake of fire.

And the remnant was slain with the sword.

[Revelation 19:11, 20-21]

And the Lord comes triumphant, and He leads into the millennium [Revelation 20:1-3]; He leads His people, His pearl of price for which He paid His life, His church [Matthew 13:45-46].  He leads the treasure hid in the field [Matthew 13:44], that’s Israel, converted Israel, gathered from the nations of the earth, the graves of the world [Daniel 12:2].  And He leads the tribulation saints [Revelation 7:9-15], and they reign with Christ a thousand years, the millennium, thousand years, millennium [Revelation 20:6].  Then after a brief, final rebellion of Satan [Revelation 20:7-9], we see the new heaven and the new earth, and the New Jerusalem, and our new home in glory [Revelation 21:1-3; John 14:1-3].

When I read all this, and I wish we had hours and hours just to think through these things that God has revealed to us, when I read these things I think, “O Lord, what a wonderful thing that Jesus is our Friend and our Savior; the great King who finally brings peace, and rest, and happiness, and life, and resurrection to the world” [Isaiah 9:6].

The golden sun and the silvery moon

And all the stars that shine

Were made by His omnipotent hand

And He is a friend of mine.

When He shall come with trumpet sound

To head the conquering line

The whole wide world will bow at His feet.

And He is a friend of mine.

[author unknown]

O Lord, I can hardly realize it!  That the great God of the world and the triumphant Leader of all mankind is my personal Friend and Savior, to stand by me in life, to comfort me in death, and someday, if He tarries, to raise me from the dead.  What a preciousness; what a comfort; what a faith.

And that’s our appeal to your heart this morning, to give your heart in faith and love to our blessed Savior [Ephesians 2:8].  Or with your family to come into the circle of our wonderful church, to answer God’s call in your heart, as we sing our song of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come.  And may angels attend you in the way.  From the balcony, down a stairway, in the throng of this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor.  This is God’s call for me, and I’m on my way,” while we stand and while we sing.