Distress of Nations, with Perplexity

Prof. Johan Malan

During the coming great tribulation – that is the second half of the tribulation period of seven years – a state of panic and perplexity will prevail among the nations of the world. Catastrophes of an unprecedented magnitude will occur to such an extent that no human efforts will be able to avert or solve them. This situation will be a combination of humanly created problems, natural disasters and divine judgements. In His prophetic discourse on the time immediately preceding His second coming, the Lord Jesus said:

“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).

The Lord Jesus describes the serious state of distress into which the world will decline as “perplexity” (Greek aporia). In the original language this is a very explicit term which the Strong’s Concordance translates as “a state of quandary”, and also as “perplexity; to have no way out; to be at a loss mentally.” The Amplified Bible explains the meaning of the word as: “Without resources, left wanting (nothing can be done), embarrassed, in doubt, not knowing which way to turn”. Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 257) comment as follows on Luke 21:25: “The world will be in a chaotic state, out of control.”

In the Olivet Discourse, as well as other biblical prophecies, various reasons are given for this state of absolute perplexity in which people will even die from heart failure due to utter fear and panic. The following are the major disasters that will occur during the last 42 months of the tribulation period:


There are various indications that the biggest earthquakes in human history will occur during the great tribulation. The Lord Jesus said, “There will be… earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:7-8). There will be a sharp increase in earthquakes, with the biggest one of all time occurring shortly before the second coming of the Lord Jesus: “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air… And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth… and the cities of the nations fell… Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev. 16:17-20).

Never in history was there a worldwide earthquake in which the whole earth was shaken, causing the cities of all the nations to fall, mountains to be flattened and inhabited islands to be submerged by the sea. But this will happen in the great tribulation! Imagine the catastrophes in large cities when tall buildings collapse, thousands of people are buried under the rubble, water and electricity supplies are suddenly cut off, emergency services are incapacitated, and food and medicine become virtually unobtainable. In the overpopulated world there are at present various mega-cities with more than 20 million inhabitants each. Instances were recorded where people died of heart failure when hearing and feeling the rumblings of earthquakes. How much more will this happen when the really “big ones” strike! Governments and international organisations will be utterly unable to avert disasters of this nature or to offer effective relief from distress. No feasible solutions will be found for these and related problems.

Volcanic eruptions are also closely associated with earthquakes since the lava (molten rock) is formed when the lower stratums of the earth become unstable, causing great friction and heat because of the movement of rock layers. When there is enough pressure the lava is forced to the surface where it erupts through a crater. There are known instances where whole villages or towns were buried under the lava. Volcanic ash and smoke can also cause serious air pollution. Various volcanoes in the world have become active again during the past number of years.

The biggest natural disaster to date was the tsunami which occurred in Southeast Asia on 26th December 2004. The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes a tsunami as “a long high sea wave caused by underwater earthquakes or other disturbances”. Missiles which explode in the sea, or large meteorites which fall into the sea, will also cause large waves of this nature. It is a foregone conclusion that there will be even bigger earthquakes than these. Large objects like burning mountains will come from outer space and fall into the sea with devastating consequences (Rev. 8:8-9). It is conspicuous how many of these natural disasters are associated with the sea: the sea and the waves will roar… Many ships will sink and creatures of the sea die (Rev. 8:9; 16:3).

The powers of heaven will be shaken

The Lord Jesus clearly warned that the powers of heaven will be shaken. That will be one of the greatest causes of serious disasters on earth: “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” (Matt. 24:29-30). At the end of the great tribulation, immediately before the second coming of Jesus Christ, disasters of which many will originate in outer space, will reach a terrifying climax.

At a certain stage the sun will burn more brightly and cause almost intolerable heat waves on earth (Rev. 16:8). The heat will render food production virtually impossible. A high degree of global warming will lead to the melting of ice in the polar regions, which will cause the sea level to rise and flood low-lying coastal regions. It will also give rise to more devastating hurricanes and tropical storms.

After the heat waves the sun will be darkened by factors such as serious air pollution. John says that the kingdom of the Antichrist will become full of darkness (Rev. 16:10). During this time a large number of heavenly bodies will strike the earth with catastrophic consequences. It may be a combination of meteorites, asteroids, and parts of disintegrating comets (Rev. 6:13).

The judgements of God

The extraordinary judgements directly prior to the public appearance of the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4-5) will be so extreme that most people on earth will realise that they suffer under God’s judgements for having rejected His Son. When God judges unrepentant sinners – like in the time of Noah and Lot – there is, from a human point of view, no escape. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). In the great tribulation, when the survivors flee to the mountains from the scene of great earthquakes, they will know without a shadow of a doubt why these disasters occurred:

“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks: Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:12-17).

The coming tribulation period will be the time of “the wrath of the Lamb”. For almost two thousand years the gospel of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ was proclaimed to the world. By accepting the gospel we do not only obtain eternal life, but will also escape the wrath of God which will be poured out upon the unsaved world during the tribulation period (cf. Acts 17:30-31; Luke 21:36). Paul says that the Son of God “delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. 5:9).

Israel as a people (with the exception of a small minority of Messianic Jews) still reject Jesus as Messiah and Saviour, and are therefore heading for the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7; Matt. 24:15-21). The same principle applies to the unsaved nations who also rejected Jesus. They are also heading for a great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world. A manmade new world order and manmade solutions for their serious problems will be of no avail to them during this time. They will be in a state of absolute perplexity when the powers of nature as well as those of outer space will turn against them in such a devastating way that there will be no chance of survival. Neither will they be able to solve the secondary problems of pestilences and famines. In spite of these experiences the majority of people will remain unrepentant and blaspheme the name of God because of these plagues (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9). Their hardened hearts will only aggravate their judgements.

During the climax of these destructive disasters Christ will make His appearance on earth. The great majority of His enemies will then still be unrepentant and collaborate with the Antichrist in his efforts to fight against Christ and try to kill him: “And I saw the beast [the Antichrist], the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him [Christ] who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse” (Rev. 19:19-21).


Only a relatively small remnant of the nations will accept the Lord Jesus with tears of repentance for all their sins (Matt. 24:30). Among them will be the entire remnant of Israel: “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. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family by itself” (Zech. 12:10-12). Jesus Christ will accept and comfort the suffering, fugitive and mourning remnant of His people by saying, “This is My people.” They will reply, “The Lord is my God” (Zech. 13:9).

The short-lived reign of the Antichrist will be utterly destroyed and replaced by the true Christ’s thousand-year reign of peace (Dan. 2:35,44; Rev. 11:15; 20:6). The Lord Jesus will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down (Acts 15:16-17) and rule the world from Jerusalem (Jer. 3:17).

Our God loves, forgives, and is longsuffering towards those who accepted His saving grace and serve the Lord Jesus. But He is also an angry God towards those who despise His grace, turn their backs upon Him, blaspheme Him, equate Him with the idols, insult the Spirit of grace, and trample the blood of His Son underfoot. He warned that He will pour out His wrath upon such people. The world is on the threshold of this time of divine judgement.

In a prophetic Psalm, the end-time nations openly state that they want to rid themselves of God and His Anointed: “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us” (Ps. 2:3). What will the Lord do with these rebels? “You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are those who put their trust in Him” (Ps. 2:9-12).

There is grace for all who turn to God through Jesus Christ, but wrath upon those who persevere on the way of sin and rebellion against God. All people, including Israel, have the choice whether they whish to be among the blessed ones who accept and serve the Messiah, or among the cursed ones who bring the judgements of God upon themselves because of their unbelief. The infidels will soon find themselves in a hopeless situation where they will be perplexed when the fearsome judgements of God are poured out upon them. It will be of no avail to call out to the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Lamb when His wrath has been kindled. After their physical death the unbelievers will be resurrected to appear before the great white throne where Christ will condemn them to the everlasting lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). But the true believers will be co-heirs in the eternal kingdom of Christ (Matt. 25:34).