Among dispensationalists, there is a tendency to think of the change from one dispensation to the next as a discrete point along a timeline. We’ve all seen the charts that mark the changes from Promise to Law to Grace to Kingdom. But each of these changes is much more than just a point along a line. Each one took years. Moses and the Egyptian experience took decades. From Jesus’ birth to the formation of the early church and the completion of the New Testament took about a century. And perhaps surprisingly, the Bible speaks of a long transition from the church age to the Tribulation and on into the Kingdom. One can make the case that we’re in that transition right now.
As we shall see, the Bible speaks of a more-or-less gradual shift from the Church Age to the seven-year Tribulation. This period is, itself, marked by various instabilities and calamities, though the magnitude of their convulsions will be far less than those bracketed within the actual seven years of the Tribulation.
Three times in the New Testament we find the term “great tribulation,” used to describe a period of time when the world will be judged in the most extreme and devastating way. As Jesus put it, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). He spoke of this impending event as a greater upheaval than any that ever preceded it. Given earth’s long history of vulcanism, earthquakes, meteor strikes, tectonic plate shifts, floods, fires and the like … including the Great Flood of Noah … the Tribulation’s serial disasters are unimaginable.
As part of His message to the Church of Thyatira, Jesus refers to a woman called “Jezebel.” Because of her unrepentant attitude, He promises to hurl her into the vast arena of judgment:
“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds” (Rev. 2:22).
A bit later in Revelation, the Apostle John is seen in heaven, as he views an immense number of people. One of the twenty-four elders stands nearby, and John asks him to identify this group. The elder’s answer specifically links them to this period of judgment:
“And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
In this elder’s reply to John, New Testament Greek specifically calls the period, “The Tribulation, the Great One.” There is only one such period … greater than any catastrophe in the history of humanity … and it looms before us like an approaching storm.
We can see it coming. Israel is a reality. The prophesied Magog – Russia – is actively arming the nations of the Mideast. Persia (Iran) is rising as an armed force in league with Russia. In short, we see the cloudy outlines of prophecy rapidly congealing into the exact forms that we have come to expect that they would take.
It is absolutely certain that the time of tribulation is approaching. It is near. In Revelation, Chapter Six, the Bible states that the Tribulation will be initiated with a global holocaust … war, depression, famine and disease will sweep across the planet. Almost certainly, the war in question will begin in and around Israel, as her enemies sweep in for the “final solution.” In the aftermath of this war, a global economy will rule the subservient masses. Buying and selling will require subservience to the antichrist.
The prophet Daniel says that the period will be seven years in length. Its developmental complexity is perhaps unprecedented, dealing with geology, astronomy, politics, wars and human disasters of various kinds and durations.
Nevertheless, John’s report shows us that, despite its various cataslysms, it has a good side. Millions from every nation on earth will come to faith during this period. Israel will be cleansed and elevated into Kingdom status. And the saints of this era will be resurrected to dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, just as John witnessed.
Imminency and Israel
As Pretribulationists, we hold to the doctrine of imminency, the faith that the Lord might return at any moment, without any preceding hint or warning. But there is a condition that must be considered when thinking about the rapture. It is this: Prophecy is extremely explicit on the point that end-time events take place in conjunction with developments in national Israel.
When the Apostles wrote their letters, Israel was still in the Land. This was no longer true after the Romans crushed the bar Kochba uprising.
When Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude, and the writer to the Hebrews sent forth their missives, Herod’s Temple was still in full operation. Israel was a nation. Even when John wrote, following the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, Israel had not been completely scattered. Only after the last Jewish revolt under Simeon bar Kochba in A.D. 135, was Israel finally dispersed to the four corners of the world, more than three decades after the death of the Apostle John.
Therefore, in one sense, the Apostolic anticipation of Jesus’ return for the church was written within the context of Israel’s then-current presence within its own borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Following the diaspora came a long period of time when this was not the case. About 18 centuries (1,813 years) elapsed between Israel’s departure from the land after the final Jewish uprising, and their emergence as a state in 1948.
During this period, the institutional church dropped the doctrine of Christ’s imminent return. On several occasions, it set dates, but it was looking for the Second Coming, not the rapture. Over the centuries, state churches followed Augustine’s lead, and abandoned the prophetic position that the Jews would return one day to Israel, there to await their Messiah. They believed that under Christ’s rule, the church, not Israel, would preside over the Kingdom.
When Paul writes about the Rapture in Second Thessalonians, it is on the ground that the church will be caught up before the antichrist declares himself that he is God. This, he does in a Jewish Temple:
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
“Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Th. 2:3,4).
Here, Paul links the rapture, which comes first, to the event in the Temple, which comes second. It was present in his day, and will be again during the Tribulation. Many believe that the term “falling away” is a reference to apostasy. Others think it refers to the rapture, as in “departure.” Either way, in order to fulfill this prophecy, it follows that Israel in the Tribulation must be present to build a Temple. In other words, Israel’s presence in the Land is a prerequisite to the fulfillment of prophecy specifically relating to the church.
Today, Israel is back in the Land. Since their return, they have been preoccupied with rebuilding the Temple. But since statehood, Arab and Islamic opposition have made that impossible. Christians have watched with great interest, as groups like the Temple Mount Faithful and Jerusalem Temple Institute prepare for a coming Temple.
Whether Paul’s “falling away” refers to a period of general apostasy, or the departure of the church, or both, makes no real difference in the understanding of this prophecy. In either case, the disappearance of the church from the world would, in itself, bring apostasy. And a dominant apostasy prior to the revelation of antichrist strongly indicates that the restraining action of the body of Christ has been removed. Paul says that only then will the “lawless one” be revealed.
Without a doubt, Paul is arguing for the catching-away of the Church, including its indwelling Holy Spirit, prior to the Tribulation. But he does so in the context of actions that require Israel to have a functioning Temple, either at the time of the Rapture, or shortly thereafter.
This simple condition has been true since the Apostles gave us the New Testament. In Romans, Paul wrote in expectant language, speaking not of the believer’s initial salvation, but of the wholesale, physical salvation of the church at the Rapture:
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light”(Ro. 13:11,12).
Early in his ministry (around A.D. 51), Paul wrote to the faithful of Thessalonica in words that could suggest that a certain number of his contemporaries would live until Christ’s return for the Church. Of course, from our present perspective, the “we” in the following verses refers to those alive today, and who will be alive in the future:
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:15-17).
Toward the end of his life (around A.D. 66), Paul’s eagerness for the Lord’s return grew stronger than ever. He urged Titus to remember that an active hope for Christ’s imminent return was the focus of Christian life:
“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”(Titus 2:12,13).
Shortly after he wrote these words to Titus, he was executed by the Roman government. The important thing to remember is that he expected the Lord’s imminent return until the end of his life.
And still, toward the end of the first century, John encouraged his own flock to live within the sphere of Jesus’ return at any moment.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1Jn. 3:2,3).
During the lives of the Apostles, Israel was a present, living reality. And even though the Temple no longer existed as John wrote these words, antichrist could still have announced himself at any time.
But after John’s death, Israel was defeated and dispersed. For 18 centuries, the Jews were no longer present in the ancient Land. The expectancy for Christ’s imminent return died along with the belief that the House of David would inhabit the Holy Land once again. By extension, it follows logically, that the doctrine of imminency strongly depends upon Israel’s present existence as a nation.
To illustrate the point:
Suppose for a moment that next year, circumstances somehow force Israel to be dispersed throughout the world, just as they were in A.D. 135, when Hadrian’s armies destroyed Jerusalem once and for all, renaming it Aelia Capitolina. And suppose that the Arabs create a new Palestine, renaming Jerusalem, their new capital, as Al Quds. Under these circumstances, the possibility of a rebuilt Temple would become impossibly remote. Would Christians then be fervently awaiting the Rapture and Tribulation scenario that is now so common? Absolutely not! Prophetic fulfillment requires the presence of national Israel.
If, God forbid, such a thing happened, Christians would again be looking for Israel’s return, and re-capture of the Temple Mount, just as some of them were doing in the nineteenth century. If Israel is not in the Land, latter-day prophecy cannot be fulfilled.
A Strange Transition
Of course, Israel is now in the Land. Over a century ago, Jews and Christians worked together to bring the modern Zionist movement to life. Through two World Wars and a Holocaust, Israel persevered to become a state. Then, fighting for life through several more wars on her own ground, Israel rose to become a world power.
Following the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israel’s possession of the Temple Mount, millions of Christians were seized by the fervent belief that they were living in prophetic times. Think of the many prophetic books that were produced in the years just following that signal event.
There is now a sizeable faction of believers who are convinced that at some time prior to the Tribulation, the Lord will descend from the heavens and take them home in the Rapture.
But there is a valid question concerning the timing of the rapture. As we discuss what the Bible says about the transition from what we might call a “normal environment,” into the unfolding exigencies of the Tribulation, we shall examine the many passages of Scripture that speak of various terrors and volatile changes that take place before the seven-year Tribulation.
Of course, there have been many passionate discussions among Christians about the precise timing of the rapture, particularly with reference to the seven-year Tribulation. Usually, arguments range between Pre-, Mid-, and Post-Tribulational ideas. The 1970s also witnessed the development of a “Pre-wrath” rapture theory that places the departure of the church about three-quarters of the way through the Tribulation.
The firmness of the Pretribulational position, however, rests upon two basic premises. First of all, the Lord promises not to bring His wrath down upon his elect, those justified in Christ. Second, His wrath is precisely timed to a specific event in the life of national Israel, mentioned by Daniel the Prophet:
“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (Dan. 9:26, 27).
Many books have been written about these verses, but they boil down to one fact: In the future, a “prince” will come to Israel. We call him the antichrist; Israel will receive him as the actual Messiah. He will sign and strengthen a covenant with them for “one week,” a shavuah, or seven-year period.
Daniel writes that it is precisely his signature upon and ratification of the covenant – and nothing else – that initiates the seven-year Tribulation. In other words, to those present at the time, the beginning of the Tribulation can be precisely identified … right down to the time of day. From that moment, the 1,260 days of the Tribulation’s first half begin to elapse. Three and a half years fly by, during which the natural order of things is suspended.
Elijah Before the Tribulation
But this brings up a legitimate question. What events have led up to the covenant between Israel and the antichrist? It is certain that he does not do what he does out of a clear blue sky. There are significant events that lead up to the signing.
Make no mistake, it is absolutely necessary for the antichrist to begin his ascent to power before the Tribulation.
The sixth chapter of Revelation says that he initially emerges during a period of war, depression, famine and raging epidemics. These begin before the Tribulation, since his signing of the covenant initiates what his contemporaries believe to be a peace treaty.
Logic tells us that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride forth before he signs the covenant, i.e., before the seven-year Tribulation. Other things also happen before the Tribulation.
To name one, the prophet Elijah comes to his people. Elijah and the antichrist come to Israel at about the same time!
Apparently, the ancient prophet brings a curse upon the land, just as he did in the episode of his three-and-a-half-year suspension of rain in the days of King Ahab. In any event, judgment begins with the rise of the antichrist to power.
We have long taken the position that Elijah is one of the two witnesses who come to plague the antichrist’s reign:
“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
“These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
“And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
“These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will” (Rev. 11:3-6).
We know when the 1,260 days begin (the signing of the covenant), and we know that Elijah alters the weather in some way. He and his accompanying witness (whom we believe to be Moses) plague the waters – rivers, lakes, seas and cloud-forming atmospheric vapors.
Rapture Before Elijah’s Disclosure
Other events of the Tribulation and the period leading up to it are far less specific. There is a tendency to think that the instant that the church is caught up, the Tribulation begins. This is not, and cannot be true!
There is one great truth about the Rapture that is rarely discussed. It takes place at some unknown interval prior to the revealing of the antichrist, which will be recognizable to those then on earth as he confirms the seven-year covenant with Israel’s leaders. The prophecy that speaks of Elijah’s latter-day arrival also tells us that he appears before Israel at some time before the seven-year “Day of the Lord.”
Malachi plainly says this:
“Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:4-6).
This, the fourth chapter of Malachi, is the last prophecy in the Old Testament. It speaks of the Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ. Furthermore, it mentions both Moses and Elijah. If, as we believe, they are the two witnesses, they represent the offices of the Law and the Prophets.
The latter, says Malachi, will appear to Israel “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
Thus, Scripture tells us that he discloses his identity to his people before the signing of the seven-year covenant.
This raises many questions. To whom will the prophet appear? If he came today, would he meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister? Or would he come to the Temple Institute, or Israel’s newly-refounded Sanhedrin? Perhaps he would meet with a convocation of Hasidic or Orthodox rabbis. But how would he bring these religious groups together in today’s religiously-divided Israel?
His very mission, as described by Malachi, is to bring fathers and children together. It is difficult to know precisely what this means, but it certainly sounds like he encourages reconciliation and spiritual unity in the House of David, something that hasn’t been seen in a real way since the initiation of Solomon’s Temple. To accomplish such a feat would require the presence of an incredible spiritual authority that simply does not exist today.
As we have often noted, Jews on a family-by-family basis watch during each Passover feast, for the coming of Elijah. They even set a place for him and pour the traditional cup of wine. Great expectancy is created when they send a member of the family to the door to see if he is standing outside.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski writes, “Whereas each participant in the Seder drinks from his own cup, the cup of Elijah is traditionally a large chalice, and many have the custom that it is shared by all.
“Once the cup of Elijah is filled to the brim, the door of the house is thrown open, perhaps to symbolize our inviting the spirit of the prophet who is to be the harbinger of the ultimate Redemption. Tradition has it that Elijah drinks from this cup. Whose contents is then distributed among all Seder participants” (Twerski, From Bondage to Freedom, (Brooklyn, Shaar Press) 1970, p. 170).
At the pouring of the fourth Passover cup, the Cup of Elijah is also poured. Then these words are recited: “Pour Your wrath upon the nations that do not recognize You and upon the kingdoms that do not invoke your Name. For they have devoured Yaakov [Jacob, or Israel] and destroyed His habitation. Pour Your anger upon them and let Your fiery wrath overtake them. Pursue them with wrath and annihilate them from beneath the heavens of HaShem [the Lord]” (ibid., p. 171).
There could not be a clearer description of Elijah’s pivotal role in the plan of God. For centuries, the annual Passover Seder has taught Jews that when Elijah comes, it will be at a time when the wrath of God is poured out during the Day of the Lord. But as Malachi says, the prophet’s role is centered upon bringing spiritual renewal and redemption to his people.
Scripture is quite explicit: Elijah comes visibly to the world before the Tribulation! He is the harbinger of God’s wrath, which is beginning to develop at that time! It becomes paramount to ask: What else is happening as he reveals himself? Will he remain hidden until the antichrist signs the covenant, then step forth with the power of judgment? Actually, the Bible tells us that at his coming, earth-shaking events will already have begun.
Joel’s Locust Plague
The more one looks at the transition period preceding the Tribulation, the more it appears that this time is marked by incredible change. Upheavals on a global scale become the order of the day. And apparently, they begin at some point before the Tribulation. This is illustrated in the prophecy of Joel, which speaks of amazing global upheavals that are specifically pretribulational:
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
“And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
“And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:28-32).
Here, we find Joel’s evocative image of conditions, as they will manifest themselves during the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation). According to him, a new spiritual awakening will come upon his people … the nation Israel. They will be led by dreams and visions that will confirm to them that they are living in the latter days.
Also, there will come an outpouring of the Lord’s Holy Spirit. But most of all, we see in graphic terms, the presence of some sort of geophysical event.
Amazingly, Joel says that all this begins to happen before the Tribulation!
What would bring “blood and fire,” with “pillars of smoke” before the Tribulation? In the natural world, volcanoes would fit this description, filling the atmosphere with particulates and choking vapors that would obscure visibility, both day and night. This has happened before on several historical occasions.
The volcanoes of Santorini and Krakatoa darkened the skies for years. The Tribulation will be worse.
Another distinct possibility to explain this upheaval would be a general nuclear war. Since the twin explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many scientists have speculated that a nuclear war would litter the atmosphere with deadly fallout, plus a variety of contaminants that would float at high altitudes for months or years.
They have often referred to a “nuclear winter,” caused by the resulting blackout of the Sun. It is conceivable that this could also cause a “blood moon.” That is, a faint Moon, seen through dust and debris, would take on a reddish tinge.
Whatever the cause, this catastrophic event comes prior to the seven-year Tribulation. So now we see that there at least two things that are prophesied to come before the antichrist signs his deceitful covenant: Elijah, and some sort of global disturbance.
The Church’s First Sermon
The first sermon of the Church Age was given by Peter on Pentecost. He quotes Joel’s prophecy about the horrendous upheavals before the Day of the Lord. Many have wondered at Peter’s choice of Scripture. Why, it is asked, would he illustrate the birth of the church with a Tribulation prophecy? In light of what we now know about Israel’s residence in the Land, the answer is simple. Peter is bracketing the life of the church, from its beginning to its end.
Joel’s prophecy speaks of two things. First, he recalls Joel’s prophecy of a significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Second, he predicts the general idea of salvation, first in the sense of the new birth in Christ and second, in physical salvation from this world through the catching-away of the church:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
“And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
“And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:16-21).
Using Joel’s words, Peter here utters a prophecy about the beginning and end of the Church Age … before the Day of the Lord. He interprets the Old Testament prophet’s message in a way that speaks volumes to the church.
These words develop an unmistakable picture. At some time prior to the antichrist’s signing of the covenant, there will be a monumental disruption that shakes the entire globe. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaks of wars, famines, diseases, and massive earthquakes that characterize this period. He quickly adds, “… but the end is not yet” (Mt. 24:6). We might call it a “pretribulational upheaval, darkening even the Sun and the Moon.”
Remember, Elijah appears at this time, and something enables him to get the attention of Israel. Declaring a shutdown of the precipitation cycle would certainly accomplish this. To do this, the prophet would have to publicly display miraculous power, marking the transition into a new dispensation.
It is also the time when Paul says that a great “falling away” happens. Everything tells us that mass confusion reigns. Imagine that today’s world leaders suddenly find themselves helpless in the face of an increasing chaos. Knowing them as we do, they might resort to radical measures to retain their power.
Hidden by the Lord
An ancient biblical prophet was given a special name: Zephaniah. It means “Hidden by the Lord.” His entire prophecy is a warning to the Israel of the last days, and his name foreshadows the intent of his prophecy.
Something of a dark nature is coming, and it’s coming before the Tribulation. Look at Zephaniah’s warning to latter-day Israel:
“Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;
“Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD’s anger come upon you.
“Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zeph. 2:1-3).
In the opening chapter of his prophecy, Zephaniah has warned of a horrendous judgment that will sweep across the entire world. It is perhaps the Bible’s most graphic description of the horrors inflicted during the Tribulation.
Then, in Chapter 2, he exhorts his people, as spiritually-blind outcasts and pariahs, to “gather” themselves … literally, to pull themselves together. He refers to a spiritual reconciliation and self-analysis that will lead to redemption. This prophecy is precisely aimed at today’s Israel, ripped into weakened factions by internal disagreements and external enemies. It is also Elijah’s mission to his people as given by Malachi. He comes to bring reconciliation to Israel’s disparate factions. Classic Dispensationalism would hold that when Elijah is revealed, the church will already have departed.
How will Israel know that it is time to “pull themselves together?” God will spiritually awaken them at the proper moment.
The “decree” mentioned above, is God’s final decision to unleash judgment. Other prophecies tell us that the final stroke in the judgment process will be the antichrist’s signing of the seven-year covenant.
Finally, we would note that Zephaniah’s warning applies to an Israel regathered and living in the transitional period just before the Tribulation. As we have seen, this is a time of chaos and spiritual darkness, when rampaging destruction is the order of the day. Israel is told to heed the warnings that God’s wrath is soon to be unleashed.
Imagine A Pre-Pretribulation Rapture
Looking at the prophecies above, one might respond with an obvious question: If global horrors break out before the Tribulation, won’t the church be around to experience them? The answer is: … not necessarily!
When does the day of wrath begin? It begins with the antichrist’s strengthening of the covenant, not with war, earthquakes or volcanic eruption. A war could … and most probably will … erupt long before he signs on the dotted line.
Imagine for a moment that a Mideast war breaks out, possibly with Iran. As tensions grow, Russia and her client states react by escalating their positions. At some point, Damascus and Egypt are wiped out. Prophecy is clear about this. Then, Gog, leading a vast northern alliance, marches upon Israel. All this seems to come just before the Tribulation.
If the war became nuclear, the atmosphere would be filled with particulate matter, darkening the Sun and Moon … before the Tribulation … just as Joel prophesied. At this time, under cover of the growing chaos, Elijah will come just as prophesied … before the Tribulation.
Ezekiel prophesied that Israel will be victorious in this huge battle, and will spend seven years burning the enemy weapons that litter the field of battle. Since Revelation tells us that Israel will become a fugitive from the forces of Satan after the middle of the Tribulation, they obviously can’t be burning weapons after that point. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus warns latter-day Israel to flee for their lives at the “abomination of desolation,” which comes at the mid-point of the Tribulation.
This would put the first wave of the war at least three-and-a-half years prior to the Tribulation, in order to give Israel a full seven years after their victory.
This scenario is borne out by Paul’s words in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers. Referring to the Rapture, he lays out a scenario that involves a future war that comes with lightning rapidity. By definition, it must come prior to the actions of the antichrist at the beginning of the Tribulation. The people of the world must sense that something is wrong, for they become preoccupied with peace and security. But their hopes are dashed when all turns to darkness … literal darkness, if Joel’s words about the Sun and Moon are taken literally:
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
“For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
“But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
“Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1Th. 5:1-11).
This is a letter to the church. Yet Paul’s warnings of war are given to Israel and the nations, not to the church. It is addressed to those “left behind,” to use the now-familiar phrase.
The Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Minor Prophets all speak of a transitional period before God’s Wrath is fully released. They repeatedly use the words “before,” or “at hand,” as a way of warning Israel to be especially watchful in the latter days.
When the signs of the end begin to multiply … even as they are now … look up. Moses, Elijah, and a world of troubles are soon to come, not to the church, but to Israel. The wrath of God is not our destiny.
Be very watchful. And comfort one another with the thought of a pre-pretribulation rapture!