by Ron Rhodes

The First Half of the Tribulation: Judgments, Martyrdom, and Apostasy


The Seal Judgments Are Unleashed  

Martyrdom Increases  

The Trumpet Judgments Are Unleashed  

Religious Babylon Dominates the World


The Seal Judgments Are Unleashed

The God of heaven—whose glory and majesty we witnessed in Revelation 6—is all-powerful and sovereign over all things in the universe, but He is also a God of judgment. In his modem classic Knowing God, J.I. Packer forcefully reminds us of this sobering, oft-forgotten truth.

The reality of divine judgment, as a fact, is set forth on page after page of Bible history. God judged Adam and Eve, expelling them from the Garden and pronouncing curses on their future earthly life (Gen. 3). God judged the corrupt world of Noahs day, sending a flood to destroy mankind (Gen. 6—8). God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, engulfing them in a volcanic catastrophe (Gen. 18—19). God judged Israels Egyptian taskmasters, just as He foretold He would (see Gen. 15:14), unleashing against them the terrors of the ten plagues (Ex. 7—12). God judged those who worshipped the golden calf, using the Levites as His executioners (Ex. 32:26-35). God judged Nadab and Abihu for offering Him strange fire (Lev. 10:lff.), as later He judged Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who were swallowed up in an earth tremor. God judged Achan for sacrilegious thieving; he and his family were wiped out (Josh. 7). God judged Israel for unfaithfulness to Him after their entry into Canaan, causing them to fall under the dominion of other nations (Judg. 2:llff, 3:5ff, 4:lff.).

Some people have tried to claim that the God of the Old Testament is characterized by judgment, whereas the God of the New Testament is all about love. God is a God of love, but He also continues to be a God of judgment in the New Testament. Judgment falls on the Jews for rejecting Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:43), on Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God (Acts 5), on Herod for his self-exalting pride (Acts 12:21-23), and on Christians in Corinth who were afflicted with serious illness and even death in response to their irreverence in connection with the Lords Supper (1 Corinthians 11:29-32; see also 1 John 5:16). Christians will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10)......


The Tribulation Period

It is no surprise to witness various judgments falling upon the world during the future tribulation period. Interestingly, the word tribulation comes to us from a Latin word meaning "to press" (as grapes). It refers to times of oppression, affliction, and distress. The Greek word thlipsis is translated variously as "tribulation," "affliction," "anguish," "persecution," "trouble," and "burden." This word has been used in relation to... those "hard pressed" by the calamities of war (Matthew 24:21)

a woman giving birth to a child (John 16:21)  the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1:24) those "pressed" by poverty and lack (Philippians 4:14)

great anxiety and burden of heart (2 Corinthians 2:4) a period in the end times that will have unparalleled tribulation (Revelation 7:14)

General tribulation is to be distinguished from the end-times tribulation period. All Christians may expect a certain amount of general tribulation in their lives. Jesus Himself said to the disciples, "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). Paul and Barnabas also warned that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). But the end-times tribulation period is distinct.

1.Scripture refers to a definite period of time of tribulation at the end of the age (Matthew 24:29-35) 

2.It will be of such severity that no period in history past or future will equal it (verse 21).

3.It will be shortened for the sake of the elect (verse 22), as no flesh could survive it.

4.It is called the time of Jacob s trouble, for it is a judgment on Messiah-rejecting Israel (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1-4).


5.The nations will also be judged for their sin and rejection of Christ (Isaiah 26:21; Revelation 6:15-17).

This tribulation period will last seven years (Daniel 9:24,27).


6.This period will be so bad that people will want to hide and even die (Revelation 6:16).

The Unleashing of Judgments

The book of Revelation indicates that human suffering will steadily escalate during the tribulation period. The first set of judgments to be unleashed on earth are the seal judgments. Consider the horror of these judgments:

First seal judgment. The rider of the white horse—the antichrist— goes out to conquer and make war (Revelation 6:1-2).

Second seal judgment. Peace is taken from the earth, with people slaying each other on a massive level (verses 3-4).

Third seal judgment. Widespread famine emerges, probably as a result of war breaking out on a global scale, causing a disruption in transportation and distribution of food supplies (verses 5-6).

Fourth sealjudgment. Massive casualties result from the widespread famine and pestilence, further aggravated by predatory wild beasts (verses 7-8).

Fifth sealjudgment. Massive numbers of God's people are mercilessly martyred (verses 9-11).


Sixth seal judgment. A devastating earthquake is accompanied by severe cosmic disturbances. People everywhere try to hide (verses 12-17). Further cosmic disturbances will occur a little later in the tribulation period. A third of the sun, moon, and stars will be darkened at the fourth trumpet (8:12), the sun will be darkened by smoke from the abyss at the fifth trumpet (9:1-2), and the sun will scorch people with fire and fierce heat when the fourth bowl is poured out (16:8-9).


Seventh seal judgment. This final seal judgment results in the unleashing of the trumpet judgments, which are even more catastrophic.


Parallels to Jesus's Olivet Discourse

In Jesus's Olivet discourse, He speaks of things that will occur during the first half of the tribulation period, and more than a few Bible expositors have noticed the parallels that seem to exist between these events and the seal judgments.


Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24)

False christs (verses 4-5)

wars and rumors of wars (verse 6)

Famine (verse 7)

Earthquakes (verse 7)

The Seal Judgments (Revelation 6)

The antichrists (verses 1-2)

Men slay one another (verses 3-4)

Famine (verses 5-6)

A great earthquake (verses 12-14)

A comparison of Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 seems to indicate that these horrific events occur during the first half of the tribulation period. Woe to those who live on earth during this time, for things are about to get even worse.


Martyrdom Increases

Scripture reveals that even though the church will be raptured prior to the tribulation period (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-17; 5:9; Revelation 3:10), 


many people will become believers during the tribulation period. (These are the "sheep" of Matthew 25:31-46.) There will be many conversions (Revelation 7:9-10).

(THAT  IS  TRUE  -  THE 144,000  PART  OF  THEM  -  Keith Hunt)

Though many believers in Jesus will still be alive at the time of the second coming, which occurs after the tribulation (see Matthew 25:31-46), many others will be martyred during the tribulation. We have already noted the martyrdom in connection with the fifth seal judgment in Revelation 6:9-11:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

This passage indicates that not only are many already martyred, but more are yet to come, even in the early days of the tribulation period. Some of these martyred "fellow servants" are the "great multitude" mentioned in Revelation 7:9-17—"the ones coming out of the great tribulation" who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (verse 14). Some of this great multitude may die natural deaths, but most will likely die as martyrs, as Bible expositor Thomas Constable explains.

This group appears to be the same as the one referred to earlier in 6:9-11 (cf. v. 14). These believers died either natural or violent deaths during the first half of the Tribulation. They have joined the angels in the heavenly throne-room that John saw previously (chs. 4—5; cf. v. 11). Now they hold palm branches symbolizing their victory and joy (cf. John 12:13). They are worshipping and serving God in heaven... They will no longer experience the privations and discomforts of their earthly existence (cf. Isa. 49:10 [LXX]; John 4:14; 6:35; 7:37). The Lamb, now seen standing before the middle of the throne, will provide for them as a good shepherd takes care of his sheep (cf. Ps. 23:1-4; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:23; John 10:11,14; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:2-4).2


The book of Revelation indicates that such martyrdom in the tribulation period will be nothing new. In Revelation 2 Christ speaks to the church in Pergamum about one of His faithful martyrs: "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells" (verse 13).

Christ urges His people to stand strong and not fear martyrdom. When He comforted the church in Smyrna, He included this exhortation: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

God's people will be persecuted during the tribulation period, and some will be killed. But death will simply be the gateway to eternal life with Jesus Christ, the divine Messiah.

The Trumpet Judgments Are Unleashed


Revelation 8 indicates that the seal judgments, as bad as they are, are followed by even worse judgments—the trumpet judgments.

First trumpet judgment. Hail and fire fall upon the earth. We are told that "a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up" (verse 7). Some .............. modern prophecy scholars suggest the possibility of nuclear detonations in this judgment. After all, what else could burn up a third of the earth?

Second trumpet judgment. A fiery mountain plummets into the sea, which turns bloody, resulting in a third of the sea creatures dying (verse 8). This, of course, cuts into the food supply as well as fouling the waters of the sea.

Third trumpet judgment. A star falls from heaven (verses 10-11). As noted previously, many believe this "star" will be a large meteor or an asteroid striking the earth and causing a near-extinction-level "deep impact." It looks like a star because it bursts into names as it plummets through earths atmosphere. It results in turning a third of the waters bitter so that people who drink them die.


Fourth trumpet judgment. Severe cosmic disturbances emerge. We are told that "a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night" (verses 12-13). The diminishing of light may be due to the massive dust kicked up into the atmosphere when the large meteor or asteroid associated with the third trumpet judgment strikes the earth. With the diminishing of light, the growth of plant life will be hindered, thereby furthering reducing the food supply.


Fifth trumpet judgment. Hideous demons are released from the bottomless pit, and they engage in relentless torment of human beings for five months (Revelation 9:1-12). During this time, people will seek death but will not be able to escape their pain. They will long for death rather than repent before a holy God.


Sixth trumpet judgment. Angels that are bound at the Euphrates are released, and they kill a third of humankind by plagues (verses 13-21). Amazingly, "the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders 'or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" (verses 20-21). The hearts of human beings will be calloused and hardened against God.


Seventh trumpet judgment. This final trumpet judgment results in the unleashing of the bowl judgments, which are even worse than the trumpet judgments (see Revelation 16). How awful it will be for those dwelling on the earth. Those who have experienced the trumpet judgments will think that things are as bad as they can possibly be. But Gods judgments will continue to escalate in the bowl judgments.


Religious Babylon Dominates the World

In Revelation 17 we find prophecies of religious Babylon. Verses 1-7 describe it, and verses 8-18 interpret Johns vision, which includes much symbolic language.

The passage indicates that religious Babylon is a great prostitute whose religious unfaithfulness influences the people of many nations. Revelation 17:1 tells us that this prostitute is "seated on many waters," which symbolizes various peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. Scripture reveals that the kings of the earth commit adultery with this harlot and become a part of the religious system she symbolizes (see Revelation 14:8). This false religious system apparently emerges during the first half of the tribulation period.


This great prostitute—a truly blasphemous religion—-sits on (and thus controls) a scarlet beast, who is the antichrist. Prostitution is often a graphic metaphor in Scripture that symbolizes unfaithfulness to God, idolatry, and religious apostasy (see Jeremiah 3:6-9; Ezekiel 20:30; Hosea4:15; 5:3; 6:10; 9:1).


We also read of "seven mountains on which the woman is seated" (Revelation 17:9). Apparently, the seven mountains symbolize the seven kingdoms and their kings that are mentioned in verse 10. Mountains often symbolize kingdoms in Scripture (see, for example, Psalm 30:7; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:44-45).

These seven kingdoms refer to the seven great world empires-Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and that of the antichrist. The biblical text tells us that five of these kingdoms have fallen, one still exists, and one is yet to come (Revelation 17:10). This means that at the time of Johns writing, the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Greek empires had fallen. Rome, however, still existed during Johns day, and the antichrists kingdom was yet to come in the end times. This passage tells us that false paganized religion has affected (or will affect) all these empires.


Revelation 17 indicates that this apostate religious system will...

be worldwide (verse 15)


be utterly unfaithful to the truth and therefore a "harlot" (verses 1,5,15-16)

exercise powerful political clout among the nations (verses 12-13) seem outwardly glorious while being inwardly corrupt (implied in verse 4)

persecute believers during the tribulation period (verse 6)



To  be  continued