Israel and the Coming Tribulation Period

Johan Malan, University of the North, South Africa

Abstract: A futuristic interpretation of end-time prophecies helps us to clearly understand what Israel and the whole world are heading for.

It is often argued that the Holocaust of World War II can be regarded as the final fulfilment of biblical prophecies related to the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:7), described in the New Testament as the great tribulation (Mt. 24:21). The Bible clearly teaches that this time of tribulation will only occur after the restoration of Israel to their land and will immediately be followed by the second coming of the Messiah. These events are still future.

As a result of the historical interpretation of biblical prophecies on the end-time, most of the churches and Christian organisations do not have a clear future expectation. They entertain the unbiblical view that the great tribulation and the coming of the Antichrist have already occurred in historical times. Some of them allege that the tribulation occurred in the first century during the reign of emperor Nero [as the Antichrist] and culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Others allege that the dark Middle Ages were the great tribulation and that the role of the Antichrist was fulfilled by various popes. Furthermore, there are also those who view World War II as the great tribulation, with Hitler as the Antichrist. All these views are subjective and situational since every group singled out a contemporary, anti-Christian dictator [e.g. Nero, the pope or Hitler] and ascribed to him the fulfilment of all prophecies on the Antichrist.

The historical school dissociates the second coming of Christ from the great tribulation, while the Bible is clear that Christ will set foot on the Mount of Olives on the last day of the great tribulation: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven…” (Mt. 24:29-30; my emphasis).

On that day, the Antichrist and the false prophet will be living persons. The Antichrist will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ’s coming (2 Thes. 2:8), and will, together with the false prophet, be cast alive into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). It is abundantly clear that the Antichrist is not a historical figure from earlier periods in the church dispensation, but an end-time world leader.

The historical interpretation of biblical prophecies will now be subjected to a scriptural test. As a point of departure, the view will be considered that World War II was the great tribulation. However, these arguments can also be applied to discredit other historical views.

The question at issue is: “Can the Holocaust of World War II be regarded as the final fulfilment of biblical prophecies about the great tribulation?” The answer is an emphatic no! The coming tribulation period of seven years is a well-developed theme in biblical prophecy, which cannot be equated to World War II or any earlier period in history. The following ten biblical reasons can be advanced in favour of a future tribulation period:

1. Preconditions for the Great Tribulation

The people of Israel must return to their land before the end-time dealings of God with them as a nation will begin: "Therefore say to the house of Israel… I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you…" (Ezek. 36:22-25). From these verses, it is evident that Israel will be restored from their international diaspora in unbelief. Their physical restoration will continue until they are the largest single group of Jews in the world and consequently in a position to take decisions on behalf of all the Jews. Events will only then start to enfold which will lead to their spiritual restoration as a nation. Their great end-time afflictions and subsequent spiritual revival will occur during the tribulation period of seven years, as that is an important period in Israel’s divine history (Dan. 9:24-27). By then, a substantial number of them must be back in their land.

The prophet Daniel describes the coming tribulation period as a year-week (Dan. 9:27; see also Lev. 25:3-8). In terms of the prophetic time-scale of the Bible, a year-week constitutes seven years of 360 days each – every month being 30 days long. From Daniel 9:27 and Revelation 11:2-3; 12:14; 13:5 it is clear that the seven years of the tribulation are divided into two distinct periods of 3½ years [42 months or 1260 days] each.

During the first 3½ years, Israel will conclude a covenant with the false messiah, who will pretend to be the true Messiah (Dan. 9:27; Jn. 5:43). They will then also build the third temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Rev. 11:1-2). This will be a time of false peace when an anti-Christian new world order of international political and religious unity will be established. At the middle of the tribulation period [after 3½ years] the Antichrist will desecrate the rebuilt temple by entering the Holy of holies and declaring himself to be God (2 Thes. 2:4). An abominable image of him will be erected in the temple and people everywhere will be forced to worship it (Rev. 13:14-15). Only then will the great tribulation of 3½ years take effect. Of this time, Jesus said to the Jews:

"Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… And pray that your flight may not be in the winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor never shall be" (Mt. 24:15-21).

It is abundantly clear that the great tribulation of 3½ years can only begin after the restoration of Israel to their land, after the recapturing of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, after the revelation of the Antichrist and Israel's covenant with him, and after the rebuilding and desecration of the temple in Jerusalem.

Israel was restored and recognised as an independent nation in May 1948. The Old City of Jerusalem was captured in 1967. In 1980, Jerusalem's political status as Israel's administrative capital was restored. The way is now open for the revelation of the Antichrist, the start of the tribulation period and the rebuilding of the temple on its ancient site. None of these conditions prevailed during World War II.

2. The Rapture and the Day of the Lord

Another precondition for the start of the tribulation period is the rapture. The church dispensation will be formally concluded by the rapture, to be followed by the dispensation of the Antichrist's reign on earth. The coming seven-year period also forms part of The Day of the Lord when He will be revealed to the world as Judge and King. God will pour out His wrath over the wicked and unrepentant nations, including Israel. There is no place for the true church in this time of wrath, since there is "no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). "For God did not appoint us to wrath" (1 Thes. 5:9). As in the times of Noah and Lot, God will first remove the believers from the disaster area of divine judgement. The tribulation period will start when Israel and the nations accept and worship the Antichrist of their own volition. When he turns against them 3½ years later by instituting a military dictatorship, they will also experience the wrath of God when the powers of heaven are shaken and men's hearts fail them from fear and expectation (Lk. 21:25-26).

Although many people will be saved during the tribulation period, they will not be in the church dispensation and consequently not enjoy the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church (Mt. 16:18). During that time, the Antichrist will make war with the saints and overcome them (Rev. 13:7). They will be saved, but will all have to die as martyrs (Rev. 6:9-11).

World War II was still within the church dispensation and can in no way be described as The Day of the Lord as it didn’t coincide with apocalyptic disasters and divine judgements. The latter will only start after the rapture. People will then clearly realise that the great day of God’s wrath has come (Rev. 6:17).

3. The 144 000 Saved Jews

The salvation of 144 000 special servants of God among the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:3-8) is irrefutable evidence that they do not form part of the church dispensation but of the future 70th year-week of Daniel. During the church dispensation, saved Jews become members of the church, which is the body of Christ among all nations (Gal. 3:27-28; Col. 3:11). After the end of the church dispensation, the time for Israel's national spiritual restoration will start during the 70th week of Daniel. Saved Jews will then be identified as members of a particular tribe of Israel. As such, they will be the first instalment of the national spiritual revival of Israel. We are still within the church dispensation, consequently this specific Jewish revival is clearly a future event.

4. Focus on Jerusalem

The coming great tribulation will be a world-wide phenomenon (Lk. 21:25-26) but one of its focal areas will be the Middle East and, specifically, the city of Jerusalem. During the time of Jacob's trouble the spiritually blind nation of Israel will be severely tried and tested, leading to the salvation of the remnant of the nation. The Bible explicitly refers to this time of affliction in Jerusalem:

"…the house of Israel has become dross to Me… Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you in the midst of Jerusalem. As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it, so will I gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you… then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out My fury on you" (Ezek. 22:18-22).

As biblical Jerusalem [the Old City] was captured by Israel during the Six Day War in June 1967, it stands to reason that the above-mentioned prophecy can only be fulfilled after that date. Since their restoration in 1948, Israel won all their wars against their Arab neighbours and are very much in command in their country and in Jerusalem. It is only now, in the midst of escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and also the renewed urgency for a peace settlement with the PLO as a spin-off of the American invasion of Afghanistan, that pressure is sharply increased on Israel to divide their land and their capital city, Jerusalem, between themselves and the Palestinians. More and more nations are unjustly condemning Israel and are hastening the fulfilment of the following prophecy:

"Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would have it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it" (Zech. 12:2-3).

God will judge the nations who persecuted Israel and pressurised them to divide their land (Joel 3:1-2), but He will also allow severe afflictions over Israel during the siege of their land.

5. Covenant with the Antichrist

Israel will conclude a covenant with the false messiah for one year-week, which will last only for 3½ years until the middle of the week. Jesus warned them against this serious error of judgement when He said: "I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive" (Jn. 5:43). In the middle of the week, the Antichrist will be assassinated but be revived through satanic powers (Rev. 13:3, 12). He will set up an image of himself in the rebuilt temple and order the killing of all Jews and Gentiles who refuse to worship him as God: "And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery… And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering… Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished" (Dan. 11:31-36).

Nothing which is even vaguely reminiscent of Israel's future covenant with the Antichrist, as well as the latter's actions after 3½ years, occurred during World War II or any other period in church history.

6. Rebuilding of the Temple

The first half of the tribulation period is also marked by the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. There are various references in the Bible to the building of the third temple, which will be desecrated by the Antichrist. Daniel 9:27 says that in the middle of the week [the seven year period of the tribulation] the Antichrist "shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering." Daniel 11:31 says that the powers of the Antichrist shall "defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation." From that time onwards, only the worship of the Antichrist as God will be allowed. Jesus warned about this evil conspiracy when He said: "When you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… then there will be great tribulation" (Mt. 24:15, 21). Paul refers to the same scenario when he describes the Antichrist as "the man of sin… who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thes. 2:3-4). Revelation 11:1-2 says that the rebuilt temple will be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months [3½ years]. The third temple is hereby again placed within the framework of the 70th week of Daniel. After its desecration, the temple will be abused and trampled for the remaining 3½ years until the coming of Jesus. This evidence alone refutes any theory that World War II and the Holocaust was the tribulation period for Israel. Since the destroying of the second temple in AD 70, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was never rebuilt.

7. Flight to the Wilderness

When the Antichrist declares himself to be God in the temple and Israel refuse to worship him in this capacity, he will order the pursuit and killing of all the Jews who flee towards the mountains of Judea. They will evacuate the cities, towns and kibbutzes in great hurry and flee to the wilderness [probably to Petra in the Negev Desert south of the Dead Sea] where they will be "nourished for a time [one year] and times [two years] and a half time [six months], from the presence of the serpent" (Rev. 12:14). During these last 3½ years of the great tribulation, God will protect and sustain a remnant of Israel to remain alive until the coming of the Messiah on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4-5). This time of refuge in the wilderness is clearly the last 3½ years before the coming of Jesus and is definitely still future.

8. Tribulation unto Salvation

The coming great tribulation will lead to the salvation of the entire remnant of Israel. The Lord says: "In their affliction they will diligently seek Me" (Hos. 5:15). Their severe tribulation during the coming Day of the Lord will be unto salvation: "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jer. 30:7). Towards the end of the great tribulation, surrounded by the armies of the Antichrist, the remnant of Israel will go up to the Mount of Olives in expectation of the coming of the Messiah at the conclusion of the 70th year-week. The Holy Spirit will be poured out over them and all of them will be saved: "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn" (Zech. 12:10). "They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, This is My people; and each one will say, The Lord is my God" (Zech. 13:9).

Not only a remnant of Israel, but also a remnant of other nation will be saved when Jesus returns to the world at the end of the tribulation period: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days… the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29-30).

The afflictions of the Jews during World War II did not even remotely lead to a reaction of this nature, since it was not yet the time for the 70th week of Daniel and for the coming of the Messiah.

9. Signs of the Times

The signs of the times discussed in Matthew 24 have a decidedly Israeli application during the coming tribulation period. Jesus is here talking to the Jews who will go through the tribulation period. He also refers to their flight to the wilderness during the middle of the tribulation, and the effect that their sabbatical laws, as well as climatic conditions, might have on their flight (24:15-21). To them, the beginning of sorrows will be in the first half of the week, and the great tribulation in the second half. Throughout the entire world, there will be wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes in diverse places.

Although there is a definite run-up to the tribulation period, it would be wrong to see World Wars I and II as the wars referred to by Jesus. There will be many wars during the tribulation period that will characterise that time. The first big war will be the Russian/Arab invasion of Israel (Ezek. 38 and 39). Thereafter, Israel will also be affected by wars between the Antichrist as the king of the North and Egypt as the king of the South (Dan. 11:40-42). The Antichrist will fight various other nations (Dan. 11:44). Towards the end of the great tribulation, all nations will be mobilised against Israel (Zech. 12:3; 14:2) and against the coming Messiah (Rev. 19:19). Demons will instigate the nations of the world to deploy their military forces in Israel (Rev. 16:13-16).

Despite the fact that the first two world wars are not specifically implied in the signs of the times discussed in Matthew 24, they are indeed of significance with regard to the restoration of Israel. It took World War I to release the land of Israel from Turkish control and change it into a British mandate in preparation for its return to its rightful owners. It took World War II to release the Jews from the countries where they were dispersed and oppressed, by inducing them to return to their own land for survival. It will take World War III [the battle of Armageddon] to promote Israel's spiritual awakening by driving them to their Messiah who will be their only hope for salvation.

10. The Struggle for Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a city of destiny. When Jesus comes back, He will return to Jerusalem: "An in that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east" (Zech. 14:4). When Christ returns, He will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down (Acts 15:16-17). He will then rule from the throne of David (Lk. 1:32). "At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart" (Jer. 3:17). "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations…" (Is. 2:3-4).

At the Messiah's return, the Jews must be back in their land – also in the city of Jerusalem. "Every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him" (Rev. 1:7). Since 1948, the Jews are back in their land and since 1967 they controlled Jerusalem. In August 1980, Jerusalem was declared the eternal, undivided capital of Israel, and Prime Minister Begin moved his office from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim, the city of destiny.

The end-time struggle for the control of Jerusalem started when Israel captured the Old City from Jordan in June 1967. The powers of darkness certainly know that the one who rules over Jerusalem will also rule the world. For that reason, the Antichrist will be in Jerusalem when he declares himself to be God: the supreme ruler of the universe! Many other dramatic events of the coming tribulation period will also happen in Jerusalem, including the big war between Christ and the Antichrist (Rev. 19:19-20).

Refuting of the Holocaust Theory

In terms of the preceding biblical evidence, the theory that equates the tribulation period with the Holocaust of World War II can be refuted as follows:

·       Did World War II last for seven years? No – it lasted for 5 years and 8 months.

·       Were the people of Israel in their land during World War II? No.

·       Were large numbers of Jews resident in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel to be tested by God in their land? No.

·       Did Israel rebuild their temple during World War II and reinstated the sacrificial service? No.

·       Did Israel flee to the mountains of Judea on their way to a place in the wilderness to take refuge for 3½ years? No.

·       Did Israel conclude a covenant with the Antichrist [allegedly Hitler] as the true Messiah? No.

·       Did Israel have a government or other recognised leaders who could conclude covenants on their behalf? No.

·       Did the Antichrist declare himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem? No.

·       Was the Antichrist [allegedly Hitler] consumed by the brightness of the Messiah's second coming (2 Thes. 2:8) and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20)? No.

·       Was World War II immediately followed by the second coming of Christ? No.

·       Did the tribulation period of World War II lead to Israel's national salvation? No.

·       Were 144 000 Jews saved during a revival early in World War II and sealed by God for a special evangelistic task while others were worshipping the Antichrist? No.

·       Were all the nations in World War II united in a war against Israel and Jerusalem? No – Jews were mainly persecuted and killed by Germany's Nazi forces.

·       Was the Antichrist's 666-related number enforced upon all nations? No.

·       Did the Antichrist have a religious leader, the false prophet, as co-ruler? No.

·       Did the kings of the East [China and its allies] invade the Middle-East with 200 million soldiers (Rev. 9:13-19)? No.

·       Was Babylon, only being reconstructed since 1978, destroyed during World War II? No.

·       Was World War II the battle of Armageddon with its strong focus on Israel? No.

·       Was Israel's transgressions and sins finished by their afflictions in World War II, and did their time of everlasting righteousness according to Daniel 9:24 then start? No.

·       Was a remnant of Israel reconciled to the Messiah at the end of World War II, as will be the case at the end of the great tribulation (Zech. 12:10; 13:1, 9)? No. As a nation, they still persist with their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

The above-mentioned facts refute any historical interpretation of biblical prophecies regarding the tribulation period and the Antichrist's public appearance – whether this period is relegated to the first century, to the Middle Ages or to World War II in the 20th century. These prophecies are clearly end-time and will culminate in the second coming of Jesus Christ, the defeat and destroying of the antichristian powers at Armageddon, the salvation of the remnant of Israel, and the establishment of Christ's millennial reign on earth.

We are very close to the rapture, by which the church dispensation will be terminated. After that, the Antichrist will be revealed. His covenant with Israel will introduce the 70th week of Daniel, which will be the tribulation period – 3½ years of false peace, followed by 3½ years of great tribulation as the world has never known. At the end of the seven years, Christ will destroy the Antichrist and his demonic reign, and restore the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will then reign as Lord of lords and King of kings!