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3. God’s dealings with the earth during the Tribulation period.
The interval of time which separates the removal of the Church from the earth to the return of Christ to it, is variously designated in the Word of God. It is spoken of as “the day of vengeance” (Is. 61:2). It is called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). It is the “hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world” (Rev. 3:10). It is denominated “the great day of the Lord” (Zeph. 1:14). It is termed “the great tribulation” (Matt. 24:21). It is the time of God’s “controversy with the nations” (Jer. 25:31). In Dan. 12:1 it is described as “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.” Our Lord referred to this same period when He said; “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation, which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days” (Mark 13:19, 20). As one reads these unspeakably solemn Scriptures the question naturally occurs to our minds, Why will this period be visited with sorer afflictions than any season which has preceded it since the commencement of human history? The answer is, Because this will be the time when the thrice holy God avenges the Death of His blessed Son. God has a “controversy with the nations,” observe “the nations” not “nation” for the Gentiles, equally with the Jews, shared in the awful crime of the Crucifixion. It is written in Rom. 12:19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” And, as in everything, so here, the Holy One sets us a perfect example—“Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”(1 Pet. 2:23). Yes, He committed Himself unto Him that judgeth righteously, and now the time will have come when His cause shall be espoused and when the righteous Judge shall exact full satisfaction for that awful crime perpetrated nineteen centuries ago. On the Cross, the Smitten One cried, “Pour out Thine indignation upon them, and let Thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. For they persecute Him whom Thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of Thy wounded” (Ps. 69:24–26). Then will be the time when God answers that prayer.
Yes, my reader, you are living in a world which is stained with the blood of God’s own Son, and which in the sight of Heaven now lies beneath the guilt of that terrible crime, a crime which each new generation since then has perpetuated by “Crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6). Long have God’s judgments been withheld. Long has His grace been displayed. But soon shall this dispensation of grace close, and then shall the Lord God make answer to His Son’s cry and “pour out His indignation” upon the world which murdered the Lord of Glory. This “pouring out of God’s indignation” is described in numerous passages. We read in Zeph. 1:14–18, “The great day of the Lord is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy: for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.” Again we read, “Behold, the whirlwind of the Lord goeth forth with fury, a continuing whirlwind: it shall fall with pain upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of the Lord shall not return, until He have done it, and until He have performed the intents of His heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it” (Jer. 30:23, 24). And once more we are told, “For, behold, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1).
No less than thirteen chapters—6 to 19—in the last book of the Bible are devoted to a description of the terrible judgments which God will pour upon the earth during the Tribulation period. We cannot now review all of these chapters, but will confine ourselves to a brief examination of a portion of the sixth. “And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword” (Rev. 6:4). The symbolism here is easily interpreted. The “red horse” denotes blood-shed and slaughter. Peace is taken “from the earth” not merely from one country, or even from a whole continent, but from the earth itself. The fulfillment of this is yet future. But coming events cast their shadows before them, and the length of the shadows which are even now cast across the earth, shows how near we have approached to the dread reality itself. Today, the saints of God are “the salt of the earth,” preserving the human race from going to utter corruption, and the Holy Spirit who is now here exerts a restraining influence upon the powers of evil. But in the day contemplated by Rev. 6 the Holy Spirit will have gone, the Church will have been removed, and then will the wildest passions of men be let loose and a time of mutual slaughter and universal carnage shall ensue.
“And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creators say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny” (Rev. 6:5, 6). The “black horse” symbolizes lamentation and mourning: the “balances” that which will be employed for carefully weighing out the cereals: the “penny” is a day’s wage (see Matt. 20:2). Added to the horrors of universal war, depicted by the previous “seal” judgment, there will be an unparalleled scarcity of food, and the very necessaries of life will be sold at famine prices. For centuries God has blessed the earth with abundant crops, but His mercies have been received without thanksgiving. But in that day there shall be a general scarcity of food and multitudes will die of starvation.
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword; and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (Rev. 6:8). As it was in connection with His plagues upon Egypt of old, so during the Tribulation period God’s judgments will increase in severity. The “pale horse” signifies Death, and his rider is thus denominated. Death is accompanied by Hades: the former seizing the body, the latter claiming the soul. In this one judgment no less than a fourth of earth’s inhabitants will be slain by God’s avenging agents, while those that are left will be tormented by the pangs of hunger and terrified by wild beasts.
“And I beheld when he opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell upon the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Rev. 6:12–14). In addition to the horrors of war, famine, and wild beasts, there will follow the most fearful convulsions of Nature. First, there is a “great earthquake,” an earthquake unparalleled in the history of man, and beside which the destruction of Pompeii and the catastrophe at San Francisco will, by comparison, fade away into utter insignificance. God Himself terms this a great earthquake—great in its severity and great in its reach, for it will shake the entire earth and even the mountains and islands of the sea will be moved out of their places. Next, we are told that, to add to the sufferings of earth’s afflicted inhabitants, the “sun” will be darkened, as though it were reluctant to shine upon such a scene of judgment and death. Furthermore; the moon will be transformed into an object of horror. Long had men despised the precious blood which the Lamb of God shed upon the Cross. But now the day will have come when God will compel all men to look upon blood. Now that it is too late for the blood of Christ to save them, God will mock them by turning the moon into blood, so that it shall no longer shed its silvery light as hitherto, but will then cast a crimson glow upon the scene of God’s judgments. As though this were not enough, the heavens will exhibit their wrath upon the earth which crucified their Creator, and will cast their stars upon it. All nature will be convulsed and all the earth will be encompassed by these unparalleled plagues.
A similar picture of the Divine judgments which will be inflicted at this time is furnished by the prophet Isaiah, “Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate. And He shall utterly destroy the sinners out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger” (Is. 13:9–13). These words are to be taken at their face value and understood literally.
What shall be the effect of all this? Let us return to Revelation 6 and read the Holy Spirit’s own description of the consternation of mankind at this time. “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And they said to the rocks and the mountains, Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 6:15–17). A prayer meeting is convened—one unrivaled for size and earnestness, and one to which all classes and conditions of men assemble. Kings and rulers will be present. Hitherto they were more often found at Race-meetings than Prayer-meetings. all classes of men will be there. Many an opportunity for prayer had they missed in the past. Many the time they had lain down at night upon a pray-less bed. They had regarded prayer as a profitless occupation, as so much time wasted, as an exercise fit only for women and children. But now they fall prostrate on their faces. When prayer would have availed, they scorned it; now that it is useless they go at it with a will. Such is the pravity and folly of human nature. But note the object of their prayers! They pray not to the living God, but to the inanimate rocks and mountains. They cannot pray to the Lord God for they never learned how to address Him, and now it will be too late to learn for the Holy Spirit, who is the inspirer of all real prayer, has been “taken out of the way.” They pray not to the Rock, but to the rocks. They had made material things their gods, and so to these they now address their petitions. Note, too, the burden of their prayers! They ask to be hidden from the face of God and from the wrath of the Lamb. When they had opportunity, they refused to acknowledge His Love, they slighted the overtures of His Mercy, so now they have to endure His wrath. To see God’s face is the deepest longing of His people: to be “hid from His face” will be the one desire of those left behind for judgment.
Above, we have reviewed only down to the end of the sixth “Seal” judgment. There is a seventh which is itself divided into the seven “Trumpet” judgments, the seventh of which is again divided, divided into the seven “Vial” judgments. Little does the world dream of what is coming upon it. The present war with all its horrors gives but a faint conception of what will shortly come to pass on this earth. Not only will peace be entirely removed from the earth, not only will all Nature be convulsed by the outpouring of God’s wrath, but the Bottomless Pit will be opened and out of it shall issue two hundred millions of supernatural locusts, having tails like scorpions and stings in their tails, and for five months they will “torment” those who have not been destroyed by the previous plagues. The torment inflicted by these infernal creatures will be so unendurable, that we are told “And in those days shall men seek death.” But mark the still more awful sequel—“and shall not find it: and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them”(Rev. 9:6). At a later stage, earth’s inhabitants will be “scorched with great heat” and so terrible will be their suffering and so incurable is the wickedness of their hearts as it will then be manifested, that we read, “and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds” (Rev. 16:9–11). Such will be a part of the “indignation” which God will yet pour out upon this guilty world as His response to that cry made by His beloved Son as he hung upon the Cross. But we must turn now and consider another prominent feature of the Tribulation period, namely,
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