In the last part of this series, we had a look at the signs in the sun, moon, and stars. Jesus said that these events would come immediately after a time of great tribulation. Today, we will look into this terrible event that would forever stain history.
Before we begin, I would like to set out some important principles for interpreting Biblical prophecy.
- Unless a clear starting point is given for the prophecy (a specific date), it always begins when the prophet gives the vision and extends forward through history from that point. This principle of interpretation is found many times throughout the Bible. Daniel 2, 7, and 8 are great examples. The kingdoms described in these visions began with the one reigning when it was given and extended forward through all the major empires that would control the world. In the case of the discourse delivered on the Mount of Olives, the starting point was when Jesus gave the prophecy, and the ending is the second coming.
- God always seems to give waymarks along the way. Let’s use the image in Daniel two as an example. Rather than jumping from Babylon to the kingdom of heaven, God gave a view of all the significant empires in between. In the case of Matthew 24, Jesus gave all the significant events that would take place between then and His second coming. As each waymark would find its fulfillment along the way, God designed that our faith would be strengthened.
- In the discourse given by Jesus on the Mount of Olives, He answered two questions simultaneously. Many of the signs given can be applied to both events.
So, with all that in mind, what is tribulation? The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the following definition.
“Distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution.”Merriam-Webster DIctonary
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this event comes after the Christians were warned to flee to the mountains with great haste. This was a warning to the Christians living in Jerusalem just before its fall. See part one of this series for more information. Luke gives some additional details which will help us gain a better understanding of this subject.
“But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”Luke 21: 23,24
It is easy to see how this verse applied to the destruction of Jerusalem. Many were slain by the sword. The Romans took thousands as slaves and captives. And, of course, through these events, the Jews were dispersed throughout all nations.
So what does this have to do with the events leading up to the second coming? In Matthew and Mark, the next event given was the time of great tribulation or persecution. Luke recorded the important detail that the gentiles would tread down Jerusalem until the time of the gentiles would be fulfilled. Essentially a period of time is added to this event.
Two Important Points
There are two points that I would like to bring out before we continue our study. The first is the transition from the literal church to the spiritual church.
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”John 4:21,23
After the Jews rejected the Messiah, they lost their privilege of being the chosen people of God. This beautiful privilege was now opened to all of humanity. The church shifted from a chosen nation to a spiritual church. It is no longer about being from a specific bloodline, for “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. See also Romans 2: 28,29.
The second is the transition from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem. Shortly before the crucifixion of Christ, Jesus said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” They were about to reject the only one who could save them, and God was going to leave the temple on earth desolate. His presence was to leave that place forever. From this point forward, the Bible transitions to a focus on the spiritual church and heavenly Jerusalem.
The Time of The Gentiles
So what is the time of the gentiles? We can find the answer to this question in Revelation 11.
“But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”Revelation 11:2,3
John mentioned the same event as Luke, with the addition of specifying the length of time. John gave the length of time in two different measurements to ensure that this detail would be caught.
In Biblical times, a month consisted of 30 days. Simple math will show us that 30 x 42 = 1260. Although we do not have time to do a detailed study on the two witnesses, it is important to understand that the two witnesses are the old and new testaments of the Bible. During this period of great persecution, the Bible would continue to witness. Although Satan would try to oppress the word of God with all his might, he would be unsuccessful.
In the future, I write a series of articles that deal with the different prophecies given in the book of Revelation. This will allow me to do a more detailed study on the two witnesses.
A Day For a Year
When dealing with prophetic time, we must be sure to allow the Bible to direct how these periods are interpreted. There is a method that is both Biblical and has stood the test of time. When applied to other prophecies (such as the 70 weeks of Daniel 9), we find it perfectly matches its fulfillment. I would like to give a shoutout to my friend Carl that also writes a blog. See his article on the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 here.
In Bible prophecy, a day is equal to a literal year. See the following two verses for the Biblical principle behind this.
“For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.”Ezekiel 4: 5,6
“After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.”Numbers 14:34
The Time of Great Tribulation
Based on the method of interpretation that we just discussed, the period of great persecution would last for 1260 literal years. This period also has to occur after the fall of Jerusalem based on the information given by Jesus.
So do we see a period of great persecution that lasted for the exact time specified by the prophecy?
One time alone can fit this description, the terrible dark ages of papal persecution. For 1260 years, terrible persecution was brought upon the people of God. Anyone who dared to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience was tortured and killed. The Bible was not held up as the standard of all truth. In its place, the commandments of men were held up as the standard.
The year papal Rome gained full ecclesiastical and political power can be traced back to 538 A.D. I will include a link at the end of this article where you can find more information on this date and the transition of power.
This period’s closing can be traced to 1798 A.D., when Napoleon Bonaparte had Pope Pius VI arrested and put in prison. Although a new pope was elected shortly afterward, the Roman Catholic church did not regain its previously wielded civil power.
Again, we can use simple math to see the results. 1798 – 538 = 1260. It never ceases to amaze me how accurately the Bible has predicted world events hundreds of years in advance!
When we consider the timeline for the signs in the sun, moon, and stars, which were discussed in part three, we can see the accuracy with which Jesus predicted events. Just after the close of papal persecution in 1798, these events did happen.
As we continue through the signs given by Jesus, we will see that very few signs are left to be fulfilled. The time is at hand! Our Lord will soon come to take us home. As I contemplate the blessed hope that we hold as God’s people, this verse comes to mind.
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”Luke 21:28
Written by Cory Lamming