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Tribulation: Warnings and Witnesses

Christian, tell me why do you talk about a coming time of "Tribulation"? Doesn't that mean "trouble"? Why anticipate such a thing?

Because…Seeing trouble coming is the best way to avoid it.

This is the third post in a seven-part series. The rest of the series can be reached from this post.

The world is full of “troubles, trials, and tribulations – oh, my!” 1 But the Bible warns of what has come to be called The Tribulation, a horrible time at the very end of this age when God finally puts His foot down against evil and says “No More!” We look at all that is wrong with the world and ask “Why doesn’t God do something?” The answer is that He’s waiting to provide a chance for everyone who will choose to accept Jesus to do so (2 Peter 3:9). But He is keeping track: All of the wrong will be punished. Jesus has taken that punishment for those who accept Him; those who don’t will face God’s wrath on their own.

Tribulation Week 2

The Bible tells us that the finale of the age will be a very eventful seven-year period, split into two three-and-a-half-year sections. Daniel 9:26-27 tell us that the people of “the prince of who is to come” will destroy Jerusalem, that he will make a covenant for “one week” (seven years), but that he will break that covenant halfway through (3-1/2 years). Daniel 7:24-26 had already told of a king who would “speak out against the Most High” and “wear down the saints of the Highest One” for “a time, times, and half a time” (3-1/2 years). Revelation 13:1-5 tells of a Beast of a ruler who is given authority for 42 months, again 3-1/2 years.

This second half of the Tribulation period will be covered in other posts. Here, I’ll describe the first half: God’s final warnings.

Seals Broken, Revealing the Beginning of the End

Revelation chapter 6 tells of a scroll with seven wax or clay seals holding it closed. Only Jesus (“the Lamb“) has the right to open the scroll. As He breaks each seal, another cataclysmic event happens. First are the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”:

  1. A rider on a white horse is sent out to conquer.
  2. A rider on a red horse is sent out to cause war.
  3. A rider on a black horse is sent out to cause famine.
  4. A rider on a pale horse is named Death, and given authority to kill a quarter of the earth “with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth“.

The 5th seal reveals all the martyrs killed 3 for their testimony for God asking “How much longer?”. They are told just a little while, until those yet to be killed for their faith have joined them 4. Then they will be avenged.

The 6th seal brings complete terror:

I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

Revelation 6:12-17

Interlude: The 144,000 and the Multitude

Before the seventh Seal is broken, there is a pause in the story line while 144,000 servants are sealed for a special purpose (Revelation 7:4-8). We’ll meet them again later. These are special messengers to the Jews, apparently, because there are 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel 5.

During this interlude, we also see “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” worshipping around God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17). They are identified as “the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb“. Where did these people come from? Has the Rapture just happened? Or, if the Rapture was before any of the Tribulation events, are these new believers who accepted Jesus since then? I don’t have a good answer to that question. But, whoever they are, “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”.

Trumpets Sounded, Announcing the Next Steps

The seventh and final Seal introduces a set of trumpet blasts. Again, each heralds another warning event.

  1. Hail and fire mixed with blood, burning up a third of the earth and its trees and grass
  2. A mountain of fire thrown into the sea, turning a third of its water to blood and killing a third of its creatures
  3. A third of the fresh-water rivers and springs poisoned, causing many deaths
  4. A third of the light from sun, moon, and stars darkened
  5. Locusts and scorpions released to torment, but not kill, for five months (so painful that their victims wish they could die)
  6. Four angels released with armies to kill a third of all mankind


The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.

Revelation 9:20-21

Interlude: Little Book and Witnesses

As with the Seals, before the seventh trumpet sounds, there is an interlude with two events. The first is an angel with a little book whose words seem sweet to start with but end up bitter. We don’t know more because John was told not to write down what that angel said. All he mentions about the book is “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.“, so apparently the news he was to prophesy was part sweet and part bitter. I’m sorry, but that’s all that Revelation chapter 10 tells us, so there is mystery remaining!

This interlude also introduces another type of warning: Two “witnesses6 (Revelation 11:3-13) who will prophesy for 1260 days (Guess what? That’s right at 3-1/2 years!) while “the nations” trample the holy city (Jerusalem) for 42 months (Hmm…Is there a pattern here?). The witnesses have power to cause drought, flame, and plague to enforce their message. But they are not only ignored, they are killed. Their bodies are not buried but are allowed to lie in the open while everyone celebrates their death. But after 3-1/2 days, God returns them to life and recalls them back to heaven. This is followed by an earthquake that destroys a tenth of the city and kills 7000 people.

There are separate articles with more about this second half of the Tribulation. While the witnesses are making this last plea for people to turn to Jesus, the Anti-Christ is hard at work persecuting any who do so.

No More Warnings

Then, the seventh trumpet announces that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15).


Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. With apologies to “The Wizard of Oz”! :-)
  2. The word translated “week” is really “seven”. It was used to mean seven of anything, the way we use the word “dozen” today. In this case, it is a seven of years.
  5. Just like in our modern language, suspiciously round numbers like that are not always meant literally. “Twelve” or a multiple of it was sometimes used in the Bible to mean a “complete” or “perfect” number. In this case, nothing indicates, though, that “144,000” doesn’t mean exactly what it says.
  6. The Bible doesn’t name these witnesses, but they could easily be Moses and Elijah who appeared with Jesus at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36). These two would have always represented the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) to the Jews who are the focus of the last part of the Tribulation.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture reference links go to, which defaults to another good translation, the New International Version (NIV).  The site has 20 or more translations available for reference.