The End Times Part IV: The Tribulation in Detail

As a child, I was taught that the end time were approaching, that all true Christians would one day be raptured, transported straight to heaven, and that this would be followed by a Tribulation in which God would judge the earth. The tribulation would be a time of horror, a time of disaster and death. I learned the outline of the Tribulation, and about the judgments God would pour out on humans during its seven year length. I believed wholeheartedly that God’s judgement was coming, and that it would be terrible.

In this post, I’m going to do several things. It’s a bit long, I apologize. I’m going to start with the history of Tribulation theology, or, in other words, the development of the idea of the Tribulation. I’m going to then give a brief outline of the Tribulation, its beginning, middle, and end. I’ll follow that with a look at the seals, trumpets, and bowls, quoting directly from Revelation. By using bold headings, though, I’ve made it easy to skim.

I’ll finish by bringing in the millennial kingdom, Satan’s final rebellion, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, as described in Revelation, and then offer a conclusion with some of my own musings about the Tribulation.

History of Tribulation Theology

In the nineteenth century, “textual criticism” of the Bible was born as theologians began questioning the veracity of various Biblical passages, rethinking the authorship of the books of the Bible, and even questioning the historical accuracy of Jesus’ miracles or the virgin birth. Fundamentalism emerged in the late nineteenth century in response to these new theological trends. The idea was to get back to the “fundamentals” of the faith, which included the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, the belief that Jesus’ death was an atonement for sin, Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and the historical reality of Jesus’ miracles.

Fundamentalists took the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture as their highest tenet and rejected the textual criticism approach. In response to it, they viewed the Bible in highly literal terms, much more so than Christians had ever viewed it, and set about interpreting both Old Testament prophecy and the book of Revelation in huge “prophecy conferences” attended by hundreds or even thousands of fundamentalist pastors and theologians. It was during this period that Premillenialism was born and it was these pastors and theologians who hashed out the details of the coming Tribulation. (Belief in a Tribulation is restricted to Premillenialists, remember.)

The Tribulation, then, is based on a literal reading of Old Testament prophecy and the book of Revelation. These texts are highly confusing and highly figurative, often reading like their author was on an acid trip. Nevertheless, these pastors and theologians were able to hammer out a basic sequence of events, as I will explain below. This basic sequence was enshrined in Tim LaHaye’s popular Left Behind books.

A Brief Outline of the Tribulation

Because I was raised with the Pretribulationist rapture teaching, that is the one I will be using here. It seems to be the most common. Some Premillenialists, though, believe that the rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation, and some believe that the rapture will occur at the very end, though these don’t generally use the term “rapture.”

The Tribulation is supposed to be seven years long, and it is divided into two parts that are each three and a half years long. At the beginning is the rapture and the emergence of the Antichrist, at the middle the Antichrist declares himself God in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem and is indwelt by Satan, and at the end is the battle of Armageddon followed by the establishment of the millennial kingdom on earth ruled by Jesus himself.

At the beginning of the Tribulation, all (true) Christians will be raptured up to heaven and the Antichrist will emerge to broker a peace treaty with Israel at a moment when it is being attacked by its enemies. The Antichrist will then set about building a one world government and a one world economic system. He will require that every person receive a mark of some sort on the hand or on the forehead in order to participate in economic transactions. He will be very popular and very charismatic, and the people will rally to him as their savior in the midst of difficult times.

In the middle of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will declare himself to be God, and set himself up on a throne in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. At this point he will be personally indwelt by Satan. He will continue to build his one world government and one world economic system, but will also demand to be worshiped. Any who refuse to worship the Antichrist will be rounded up and killed. The Antichrist’s one world government will bring peace and prosperity, especially in the midst of calamity, but dissent will not be tolerated.

At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will come down from heaven with an army and be victorious in the battle of Armageddon, defeating the united forces of the Antichrist completely. At this point he will set up his millennial kingdom on earth, and after his thousand year reign Satan will lead one last rebellion, and then be thrown into hell for good. At this point the final judgement of all mankind will occur, followed by the destruction of the old heaven and earth and the creation of a new heaven and earth.

Throughout the seven year period of the Tribulation, in addition to the political and economic outline here, God will order various judgments upon the earth. These take the figurative form of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. These judgments will include everything from earthquakes to plagues to burning hail. In other words, life during the Tribulation will suck. A lot.

Another theme of the Tribulation involves the Jews. The idea is that the current “church dispensation” is sort of a parenthesis in God dealing with his chosen people, the Jews. During the Tribulation, the Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews) will still be allowed to accept Christ as their savior and achieve salvation, but the focus will be on the salvation of the Jewish people. For this reason, a significant amount of the activity in the Tribulation will focus on the nation of Israel, and even the temple itself, which as I said will be rebuilt.

If you’re already confused, that’s okay. I almost quit reading this like twenty times. It’s seriously complicated stuff. If you’d like to see a simple chart, there’s one here. There’s a more complicated chart here as well. For other really complicated charts, see here or here. For a fairly simple and accessible chart in three parts, click here, here, and here.

The Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls

While some of the dating comes from Daniel, and some of the signs of the times leading up to the Tribulation come from the gospels, most of the actual things that happen during the Tribulation, including the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls, come from Revelation. I’m going to go through all seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, quoting from Revelation as I do so. Since I’m only doing these judgments, I will only be quoting select portions of Revelation. Bear in mind the (very) brief outline I already provided. The seals and trumpets occur during the first half of the tribulation, the bowls during the second half.

While the book itself does not specifically name its author as such, the church has traditionally held that Revelation was written by John the Apostle. The book is the story of his vision of heaven while he was living in exile on an island, in which he sees the events that will occur during the end times revealed before his eyes and narrates this in turn. However, Revelation has long been considered a bit sketchy, and was only admitted into the Biblical canon by one vote. During the Reformation, some reformers wanted to remove the book entirely, claiming that it was not divinely inspired. Nevertheless, it remains.

Much of what I’m leaving out here involves a figurative description of the political and economic events involving the Antichrist which I already described, and lots of portrayals of martyrs and, especially, converted Jews, along with the angels of course, praising Jesus in heaven and declaring his judgments to be Just.

The Seven Seals

The First Seal: The Rise of the Antichrist to Power

Revelation 6: 1  I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

The Second Seal: Global War

3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.

The Third Seal: Global Famine

5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

The Fourth Seal: One Fourth of the World Population Dies

7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

The Fifth Seal: Worldwide Martyrdom of New Christians 

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Note: The idea is that, after the rapture of all Christians, new people will convert to Christianity, realizing that they had been “left behind” and that the Biblical prophesies were true. These converts might be numerous, especially among people who were before nominally Christians but never “truly” accepted Christ as their savior. 

The Sixth Seal: Worldwide Earthquake

12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

The Seventh Seal: Silence in Heaven

Revelation 8: 1 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

The Seven Trumpets

2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

The First Trumpet: Fire and Hail

7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

The Second Trumpet: A Third of the Sea Turned to Blood

8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

The Third Trumpet: A Third of the Rivers Fowled

10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

The Fourth Trumpet: A Third of the Sun, Moon, and Stars Darkened

12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night

13 As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”

The Fifth Trumpet: Scorpion Beasts Torment Mankind

Revelation 9: 1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.3 And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. 6 During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8 Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).

The Sixth Trumpet: A Third of Mankind Killed by Monstrous Horses

13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number.

17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. 18 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. 19 The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.

20 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The Seventh Trumpet: Announcement of Coming Judgments

Revelation 11: 15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.

The Seven Bowls

Revelation 15: 1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.

Revelation 16: 1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

The First Bowl: Festering Sores 

2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

The Second Bowl: The Sea Turns to Blood

3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

The Third Bowl: The Rivers Turn to Blood

4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; 6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

The Fourth Bowl: The Sun Scorches with Fire

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

The Fifth Bowl: The Earth is Covered with Darkness

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

The Sixth Bowl: The Euphrates Dries and the Antichrist Prepares for Armegeddon

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. 15 “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” 16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

The Seventh Bowl: Huge Earthquakes and Terrible Hail

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

The Battle of Armageddon

19: 11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

The Millennium

Revelation 20: 1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

The Final Rebellion and the Final Judgement

7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Revelation 21: 1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Conclusion

It should be remembered that Bibles often do not only offer text. Instead, they often also offer commentary and explanation. It is through this explanation, especially in popular Bibles like the Scofield Reference Bible, that these ideas about the Tribulation are spread, as well as through sermons and Sunday school classes for adults. These ideas are also passed through books, such as Hal Lindsay’s popular Late Great Planet Earth and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series.

One thing that struck me in writing this post is the absolute horrors that are supposed to be meted out on the earth during the Tribulation. In many ways, Revelation reads very similarly to Dante’s Inferno. God punishes humans with disease, famine, and even scorpions and monstrous horses. It’s like it’s out of someone’s morbid fantasy.

Here, for example, is one passage I skipped since it came between the others and seemed perhaps to be referring to the coming battle of Armegeddon:

Revelation 14: 17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

It’s also interesting to note that whatever God does, there’s a significant number of people who refuse to repent. I have to wonder, after all these plagues and signs, all of which line up with the predictions of Revelation when taken literally, wouldn’t humans be pretty aware of what was going on? Now obviously this is all fiction, but I would almost wonder whether, if this actually occurred, at least some humans might conclude that God was a wrathful monster not worth serving. I almost feel like someone could write a fiction in which the Battle of Armageddon is actually the united forces of mankind rallying to fight off an abusive, evil, dictatorial God.

The way this all is justified, of course, is that God may be loving but he is also just. Throughout the book of Revelation, the angels and martyrs continuously declare God to be just in his judgement of earth and of humankind. Furthermore, it is argued that God punishes only to chasten – in other words, he is continually waiting for humans to repent, ready to welcome them into heaven. The punishments are a way to drive people to repentance. I think part of what is going on here is that our definitions of justice and the appropriate place of punishment have changed since the time when Revelation was written, a time that was much more harsh and difficult. What may have looked just and kind then does not now, because, well, culture changes and so do cultural codes of ethics.

You can also see here why the Pretribulation Rapture position is so popular. It’s very appealing for those who believe that these horrors really are literally coming to believe that they will leave the earth before the horrors begin. The Rapture is put together from a few verses elsewhere in the Bible, and is not found in Revelation.

If this whole thing has only confused you more, go back and read the brief summary I started with, and then mentally add lots of plagues and earthquakes and hail and famine and death. That really about sums it up!

In my next segment, I’ll be talking about how Dispensational Premillennialists watch for the “signs of the times” and interpret current events within a Biblical lens – and about the problems this causes.

Also in this series:

Part I – The Millennium, Tribulation, and Rapture

Part II – Social Justice, Dominionism, and the Culture Wars

Part III – Dispensationalism

Part IV – The Tribulation in Detail

Part V – Signs, Prophesies, and Current Events

Part VI: Rapture Anxiety

Part VII: Dispensational Premillennialism’s Recent Origins

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://rant5k.blogspot.com Grikmeer

    It reads like Lewis Carroll…

    • http://rant5k.blogspot.com Grikmeer

      (Revelation, I mean)

      • John Morales

        Now obviously this is all fiction, but I would almost wonder whether, if this actually occurred, at least some humans might conclude that God was a wrathful monster not worth serving.

        But it’s not even consistent fiction, it’s self-contradictory!*

        So no, it could not actually occur.

        (How anyone can take any of this stuff seriously is beyond me)

        * For example: at The Sixth Seal, the stars fall from the sky, but later at The Third Trumpet another star falls from the sky, not to mention that at The Fourth Trumpet, a third of the stars go dark.

        (For another, at The Sixth Seal the mountains are removed, after which everyone** hid in the “rocks of the mountains” and they “called to the mountains “)

        ** Such redundant verbosity, too!

        “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free” means exactly the same as ‘Everyone’. :)

  • Ace of Sevens

    I believe the dominant scholarly interpretation is this was never meant to be about the end of the world. It’s about persecution of Christians under Nero. It was never meant to be taken literally.

  • Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    Cool! Thanks for the explanation. I tried to read the whole thing, but at some point I’m going to have to go back and try again with the bowls and trumpets. My eyes glazed over at some point. I’ll go back and look at the other parts of the series now before asking any questions, since they might have been answered elsewhere. I’m looking forward to the next post, because that’s always been the most interesting part of this phenomenon to me.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    This stuff always makes me so angry…

  • Yoritomo

    I almost feel like someone could write a fiction in which the Battle of Armageddon is actually the united forces of mankind rallying to fight off an abusive, evil, dictatorial God.

    Rather unsurprisingly, someone has already done so.

  • kraut

    Some seriously crazy shit. I grew up catholic, so the apocalypse was really never central, and nobody had a sense of it being immanent by any stretch. It was a book sitting in the corner like a rather confused child, not to be taken too seriously.

    What I am wondering about: If Christ is god – why does he need an army to defeat the Antichrist. Is he not the lord of all, having the power to create a universe??? And he needs soldiers?
    What would religion be if inconsistencies, contradictions that make your brain bleed and outright craziness wouldn’t test the faith…

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    I’m really learning a lot, Libby Anne. Thanks for explaining all of this to an outsider. My educational background is in early and medieval theology/eschatology, so this is elucidating.

    I haven’t got very far with this installment, but I noticed a small error: prophecy is the noun, to prophesy the verb.

    • Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

      I haven’t got very far with this installment, but I noticed a small error: prophecy is the noun, to prophesy the verb.

      Wait, really? It is? *really excited to learn this*

      • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

        Yes, and they’re pronounced differently. The ending of prophecy sounds like sea, the ending of prophesy sounds like sigh. Happy to be of assistance. :)

    • Libby Anne

      Fixed. Thanks!

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    A few things that confuse me–how does the “worldwide martyrdown of Christians” fit into the pre-tribulation view? How can there be a worldwide martyrdom of Christians if all the Christians have already been raptured before the tribulation?

    Also, from what I understand, a lot of the far-right fundamentalist hatred of world organizations like the UN stems from the belief about the Antichrist’s world government. But then, if that’s happening, shouldn’t they already have been raptured? Or are these people not pre-tribulationist pre-millenialists.

    *head explodes* How did C.S. Lewis ever fit a fair amount of this stuff into a relatively readable (if kind of creepy) novel?

    • Libby Anne

      First – and I will go clarify this in my post – the idea is that only “true” Christians will be raptured, and once the rapture happens “lukewarm” Christians will realized what happened and become truly “saved.” Similarly, other people might realize this was the foretold rapture – there will still be Bibles around, after all – and also convert. My parents, and many others, give unsaved relatives Bibles and passages marked and tell them to read them if a whole bunch of people suddenly disappear.

      Second, my post tomorrow will answer that question. It’s about the setup beforehand. The UN is the organization that the Antichrist will shape into his one world government, or so it is thought.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Ah, okay. So it’s convert now and get raptured, or convert later and get martyred. Makes more sense. :-/

        Looking forward to your post about the U.N. etc.

        Btw, are you a fan of the series “Six Feet Under” and, if so, have you seen this? (Every episode opens with a random person’s death and, well, this was one of them.)

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDkN7L6r27s

        Hope you don’t find it too mean, lol…

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Oh, and that link is definitely NSFW…

    • Ace of Sevens

      C.S. Lewis’s views don’t closely resemble those of Tim LaHaye. If he weren’t such a good author, he would be denounced as a heretic.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yeah, but “The Last Battle” is a Revelations allegory, at least that’s how I understood it. With Shift the Ape being the Antichrist (or wait, would it be Puzzle who’s the Antichrist and Shift who is Satan?)and Aslan coming for the last judgment and creating a new Narnia…where the Pevensie family can live because they were all massacred in a train wreck…except for Susan because she became a shameless hussy…yeah

        I loved the Narnia books, but I remember that “The Last Battle” made me pretty uncomfortable throughout and the ending horrified me…

      • Ace of Sevens

        I meant his interpretation of Revalation is different than this. For instance, he thought non-Christians could go to heaven.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Haha, yes, that is an important difference. No argument that his version is quite a bit kinder, although it still sketched me out when I read it as a kid.

  • Anon

    So I am friendly with a Christian couple (conservative background, liberal now) who went to Baptist college and she is a minister etc., and they told me the whole “rapture” thing was not in the Bible at all. That some young girl had a “vision” during this Fundamentalists backlash you describe, and it was very popular, and that’s where the rapture story came from… The wife even had some story where at a pastor training thing, everyone mocked the idea of the rapture etc. Could you help by clarifying where/how the rapture is presented in the bible? Is it something very ambiguously stated, or is it more clear (except on the point of when it will occur, as you mentioned in your previous posts)?

    Thanks a bunch! These have been super interesting posts- for some reason I am rally fascinated by various “end of the world” mythologies… likely due in no small part to my luck of being born into a family that does not believe this hogwash.

    • Libby Anne

      Good question. I will get into this a little bit in my upcoming post on the recent origins of Premillenial Dispensationalism. For now, I will say two things.

      First, there are several verses that talk about a “trumpet sounding” and believers being “caught up with Christ in the air.” These are not in Revelation but rather in some of the epistles. Traditionally this has been understood as what occurs at the Second Coming, but those who believe in a Pretribulationist rapture interpret it as happening before the Tribulation, when Christ descends into the air, believers are raptured to him, and they all head up into heaven – in other words, Christ doesn’t “fully” return for his Second Coming, but can “partly” return first, right before the Tribulation.

      Second, many theologians who parse the details of the Tribulation have concluded that when the Tribulation begins, God removes his hand of protection from the Earth so that it can be ruled by Satan through the Antichrist. In order for God to remove his hand of protection, he clearly has to remove all believers. They therefore conclude that there is a rapture of all believers before the tribulation.

      Your friend is right, though. Belief in the rapture is very recent, and is hobbled together through tortured Bible verses. Click <a href="http://christianity.about.com/od/faqhelpdesk/a/whatisrapture_2.htm&quot; here for some of the verse they use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

    This actually gave me an idea about writing a story based on the end of the Millenium, in which the dictatorial world government is already established, everyone’s immortal, and it’s basically set up as your wonderful utopia. Cue one lone citizen discovering a long-imprisoned rebel and finding out how this utopia came about…

  • http://nolongerquivering.com Vyckie Garrison

    I saw a bumper sticker recently:

    In Case of Rapture …
    Can I Have Your Car?

    LOL – the whole End Times madness is truly bizarre. But early in my Christian life, I read Hal Lindsay’s books (Late Great Planet Earth, Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) – and I was convinced that Jesus HAD to return in the next five years (1989).

    After living in fear of being “left behind” for several years, the blatant anti-Semitism of Premillenialism led me to search for a “better” interpretation of biblical eschatology – and I ended up a Preterist. Preterism is at least more optimistic regarding the future of Christianity in the world – that system of belief looks forward to “the restoration of all things.” So – you get Dominionism. Ugh.

    It’s so nice not to have to take all those cryptic verses so darn seriously anymore and not to be making major life decisions based on my best guess as to what it all might mean.

    Libby Anne – so glad you have been able to provide this overview. I’d never have the patience for it – but you’re doing a commendable job. :)

  • Francisco Bacopa

    Never understood the atoning death of Christ thing. Sometimes it is presented as similar to debt. Suppose I am a lender in it for business. Some dude doesn’t pay back, but then some other dude pays the balance. DO I care? No way, I gots my monies.

    Now suppose someone has wronged me. Will I really be satisfied if some third party tries to make up for things? Not really, I want the specific person who wronged me to apologize in such a way that I know they understand exactly what happened and to make restitution if appropriate.

    How can Jesus suffer the penalty for our sins? And that’s supposing there there have been sins.

  • http://madam-eglentyne.tumblr.com/ Clytia

    I used to totally believe all this. I love the ‘Left Behind’ series (and the Left Behind Kids series – I was a teen at the time).
    Just a random point though – in a first year English paper I did when I first started at uni, we were reading a bit of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Bible he would have used was the Geneva Bible, which was the predominant translation at the time (1400s), before the King James (which was, in many ways a response to the Geneva). I managed to get my hands on a facsimile copy of an original Geneva Bible. The footnotes (as our English professor had pointed out to us) portray a very clear anti-catholic theology. In fact, in Revelation, the Antichrist is, in no uncertain terms, pointed out to be the Pope. Since I was an anti-catholic little protestant girl at the time I found this rather amusing.

    • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

      Your timeline’s a bit off. The Geneva Bible is from the mid-1500s (following Luther’s break from the Church). Chaucer, if he had availed himself of an English translation, would have been reading a Wycliffe bible which was a pretty straight-forward translation of the orthodox Vulgate.

      • http://madam-eglentyne.tumblr.com/ Clytia

        Odd, that makes sense, however my professor at the time (a very distinguished Medieval Literature professor) insisted it was the Geneva Bible…

  • gratch

    The thing that’s always confused / amused me about the End Times mythology is: If the stuff in Revelation is prophecy and not just a prediction, and there really is a God in Heaven and Satan in Hell, wouldn’t Satan have read Revelation at some point? Why give his ‘A’ game in trying to get souls and torment Mankind and all those other devil-ish things he does if he already knows he’s going to lose the match in the end? I realize there are many, many other problems with the book but this is one that’s always bugged me.

    • Ace of Sevens

      Presumably, he’s doing it to be contrary.

    • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

      “If the stuff in Revelation is prophecy and not just a prediction, and there really is a God in Heaven and Satan in Hell, wouldn’t Satan have read Revelation at some point?”

      Revelation is apocalyptic literature; apocalypse literally means “hidden.” The text is symbolic to the degree it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what is meant by the symbols. While a Preterist would tell you that the symbolism is there to keep the Romans from knowing the nasty nasty things John was saying about them, presumably it would also hide meanings from Satan too. Very tricksy, writers of apocalypses.

      While most “rapture” adherents will tell you they base their theology on a “literal” reading of Revelation, due to the heavy symbolism there is really no such thing as a “literal” reading. The dispensational premillennialist interpretation is actually quite fanciful compared to others.

      • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

        self:correction and expansion: Apocalypse means “to reveal something hidden” as opposed to just hidden. The symbolism was meant to be meaningful to an audience “in the know” and be opaque to outsiders. It can be considered a literature of persecution, and meant to encourage persecuted populations by showing that Justice Will Be Done, and The Right Side Will Win–while hiding those meanings from the persecutors. (But in terms of Biblical interpretation, I find the partial-Preterist interpretations the most convincing given the historical context)

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    Doesn’t it ever strike believers as unnecessarily elaborate and pointless, all these plagues and wars and monsters? It’s like a bad joke. Even the 1000 year reign thing is utterly absurd–why bother?

  • jamessweet

    I almost feel like someone could write a fiction in which the Battle of Armageddon is actually the united forces of mankind rallying to fight off an abusive, evil, dictatorial God.

    OMG, I am not kidding, I had exactly the same thought about halfway through reading this!

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    Very interesting post. :)

    It’s also interesting to note that whatever God does, there’s a significant number of people who refuse to repent. I have to wonder, after all these plagues and signs, all of which line up with the predictions of Revelation when taken literally, wouldn’t humans be pretty aware of what was going on? Now obviously this is all fiction, but I would almost wonder whether, if this actually occurred, at least some humans might conclude that God was a wrathful monster not worth serving. I almost feel like someone could write a fiction in which the Battle of Armageddon is actually the united forces of mankind rallying to fight off an abusive, evil, dictatorial God.

    That could be fun to read. :D

    My guess is that millions of people – at least – would realize how monstrous he is. Actually, millions of people already realize that the biblical god is worse than Darth Vader, so chances are many of us would not be deceived into thinking otherwise.
    On the other hand, most people would be understandably willing to claim to repent if that meant avoiding horrible torture – worse, infinite torture.
    However, there is a problem: the monster might have strong telepathic abilities, and if so he would know who repents and who reckons he’s a monster but pretends otherwise.
    If the evidence for the biblical god’s telepathic abilities were strong, then I’d say millions would choose to (try to) go down fighting, instead of just go down anyway – though maybe the disparity in forces would make it more of an extermination than a war.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    We were pre-millennialists who did not believe in the rapture. I was terrified of having to life through the bowls, seals, and trumpets, and see the slaughter of so many people after the battle of the million man army from the east (which my dad insisted would come from china, and would be comprised of men looking for women to make their wives because of the lack of females in china after years of the one child policy and preference for male children.) I was always under the impression that the anti-christ would fool pretty much everyone (except perhaps my dad) and that even the Christians wouldn’t realize what was going on until after the tribulation had started.

  • scotlyn

    I almost feel like someone could write a fiction in which the Battle of Armageddon is actually the united forces of mankind rallying to fight off an abusive, evil, dictatorial God.

    Yoritomo, above, beat me to the mention of Philip Pullman’s works, but in a lighter vein, there is also the brilliant “Good Omens,” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which should be required reading for anyone recovering from Tribulation anxiety.

  • HumanisticJones

    I love when the Bible gives me numbers. It makes it so easy to point out how ridiculous something is. Lets say… that wine press story…

    “and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia”

    Well, that gives us a definition for a cylinder…

    Radius – 1600 stadia = ~183.94 miles = ~296022348mm
    Height of a large riding horse to shoulders = 1.57 meters = 1570mm
    Volume of that cylinder = pi*r^2*h = about 432213694518407537353mm^3 or 4.32213695×10^14L volume.

    From that we can take the figure that the average human body has 5 liters of blood and get the figure that, assuming this “press” crushed out literally all of the blood in every person it crushed, around 86,442,738,903,681 humans (over 12,348 times the current world population) would have to be crushed.

    Unless this suddenly became the Fist of the North Star universe and people explode into truckloads of blood, I think the perfectly inerrant and literal bible has got some ‘splaining to do.

    • Phil

      Your math is a bit off because you used the diameter as the radius.
      Also, you assume it is a cylinder, but very clearly it would have to be a lake or a bowl shape, and you don’t know the exact shape of the bowl as only the deepest part is given.
      Also, you assume that none of the other bodily fluids or contents ooze out of the wine press.
      However, you are in good company, because everyone else posting here is making no fewer unjustified assumptions and errors in their reasoning. For example, about several things sounding contradictory, therefore it must all be nonsense. Jesus himself advises that certain unbelievers will turn on and attack his followers because they don’t understand the message of hope in Christ (pearls) that they preach. So such a statement is not surprising. Despite all the devastation and suffering depicted, the real message here is one of hope and power that of a peace that surpasses human understanding, but an outsider cannot possibly see that because since they are separated from God and His power, they are blinded by fear.
      I’m not saying I have proofs to convince anyone that they’re wrong, because I’ve learned that even if you have an argument that has perfect logic, few will listen; after all, Obama got re-elected, didn’t he? So just take this as an observation that you shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss as fiction what is to others a clear prophecy and more, and not biased because of legend or hearsay, but because they take at face value the plain writing. Don’t think that such people are ignorant of historical contexts nor of all of the alternative theories and hypotheses you’ve collectively provided here.

  • http://skjaere.livejournal.com/ Skjaere

    Thank you for writing this series. I feel like I am really learning a lot. I was raised in the Methodist, and later Episcopal Church, so while I’ve always been sort of aware of End Times theology, there was never really much focus on it. My mother became Born Again when I was almost done with high school, and started talking about this kind of thing, and as you can imagine, I was pretty confused and did not really know how to respond, so I mostly just ignored it. I did end up reading the first “Left Behind” book a few years later, but the writing was so bad that I could not continue, and it had nothing to do with the subject matter. The way you lay it all out really begins to bring it all into focus for me. So yeah, thanks.

  • http://www.brooksandsparrow.com Angelia Sparrow

    I used the winepress line in a vampitre apocalypse novel. (Yesha ben Yusef as immortal vampire hunter. He ends it with “Hmm, better get on this. We’re only ankle deep in the back.”)

    Revelation is a political novel done in symbolic language. it basically says Rome is the New Egypt, so God’s going to unleash the plagues of Egypt on them. Others think John was either having a mental illness episode or a bad mushroom trip.

    I’m wrking on a rapture horror novel. It opens with a tow truck driver trying to clear the roads. The synagogues, the mosques, the Bahais and the pagan groves are all running constant grief counseling, prayer circles and all the help they can. I’m not far with it, but it’s kind of my answer to the Left behind novels. It ends badly.

  • Believer

    Understanding Him and believing in Him can be a difficult thing but that is why it’s called faith, not knowledge.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

      One of the greatest tricks religion has ever committed has been to convince reasonable people that faith is a virtue.

      • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

        Usually reasonable, anyway.

        But what is faith, anyhow?

        A tentative hypothesis is that to hold a belief on faith is to hold a belief and to be emotionally invested in such belief in a way that would at least in some cases prevent the person to abandon it even in the presence of evidence and/or arguments that would persuade someone who is being rational about it.

        That does not mean that no amount of reason will persuade someone with faith:
        Even if a person with faith will fail to be persuaded by some reasons that should persuade them, if one keeps piling on more reasons, etc., they might be persuaded – it’s just that the amount of reason, evidence, etc., that is needed is more than it would be if the person were being rational.

        Also, there are different degrees of irrationality, and correspondingly different degrees of faith. The stronger the faith, the stronger the irrationality, so the more difficult it is to persuade them.

        As for Jesus, in the transfiguration for instance (not that it’s real, of course), he was clearly in good terms with Moses, the man who commanded (for instance) to stone women to death for having sex before marriage and then marrying someone who didn’t know, etc. – Jesus didn’t even rebuke him, but approved of his actions, it seems.

  • Godlesspanther

    Some time ago I investigated the Rapture Ready site. I made a YT video about it as an example of a post-internet online cult. I did sign up as a member with the intention of posting messages to get a more in-depth idea as to how these folks operate. I decide against posting anything. I chickened out.

    I asked some folks who had more experience with the group about some basic questions as to how much I could be allowed to be my real self.

    Do I have to be a creationist? Do I have to be a homophobe? Do I have to be anti- choice? Must I hate rock and roll?
    Those who did have experience infiltrating the group answered a definite YES to all of those questions. I could not do it.

    But I did — through observation only — glean some information. The things that struck me most about this group was the intensity of the isolationism and the superstition. The up-front rules make it clear that anything posted which may be considered an opposition to their extremely narrow obsession with the idea that the rapture will happen at any minute now will not, ever, under any circumstances be tolerates at all.

    The list of rules upteen stanzas long state, in no uncertain terms, that any fraction of a micron out of their insanely narrow construct is violated in any perceived way — the offender will be banned from the forum — no trial, no jury, — straight to execution.

    These folks have a desperate need to be reinforced that thier bizarre fantasy is real. If you inform them that their idea of the rapture simply will not cannnot happen because it is obvious that it has no relationship toreality –they just can’t handle it.

    • Rod

      Wow! I just discovered and looked over the Rapture Ready website….. There is some weapons-grade crazy there!
      It boggles my mind that there are people who actually think this way, and that they can actually function in society. How do there people cope with the massive cognitive dissonance inside their skulls? Unbelievable.

  • Christine

    Going back to where this came from in the first place, why was Revelation looked at with books of prophecy at all? Was this because of the belief that looking at the Bible in context and understanding what the writers meant was wrong, or did people just not think?

  • Malcolm

    / Hi Libby Anne. Would love anyone’s opinion of the following. I came across it on the web. /

    (This article reveals some research that is No. 1 on the “hate list” of many “fundy” Christians because it shows that their idolized “rapture” belief – the inspiration behind Lindsey’s and LaHaye’s all-time bestsellers – is only a 19th century invention and that credit long given to John Darby for it should go to a long unknown 15-year-old girl in Scotland!)

    Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart !

    “church” RAPTURE “church”
    (present age) (tribulation)

    In early 1830 Margaret was the very first one to see a pre-Antichrist (pretribulation) rapture in the Bible – and John Walvoord and Hal Lindsey lend support for this claim!
    Walvoord’s “Rapture Question” (1979) says her view resembles the “partial-rapture view” and Lindsey’s “The Rapture” (1983) admits that “she definitely teaches a partial rapture.”
    But there’s more. Lindsey (p. 26) says that partial rapturists see only “spiritual” Christians in the rapture and “unspiritual” ones left behind to endure Antichrist’s trial. And Walvoord (p. 97) calls partial rapturists “pretribulationists”!
    Margaret’s pretrib view was a partial rapture form of it since only those “filled with the Spirit” would be raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist. A few critics, who’ve been repeating more than researching, have noted “Church” in the tribulation section of her account. Since they haven’t known that all partial rapturists see “Church” on earth after their pretrib rapture (see the “church-splitting” chart above), they’ve wrongly assumed that Margaret was a posttrib!
    In Sep. 1830 Edward Irving’s journal “The Morning Watch” (hereafter: TMW) was the first to publicly reflect her novel view when it saw spiritual “Philadelphia” raptured before “the great tribulation” and unspiritual “Laodicea” left on earth.
    In Dec. 1830 John Darby (the so-called “father of dispensationalism” even though he wasn’t first on any crucial aspect of it!) was still defending the historic posttrib rapture view in the “Christian Herald.”
    Pretrib didn’t spring from a “church/Israel” dichotomy, as many have assumed, but sprang from a “church/church” one, as we’ve seen, and was based only on symbols!
    But innate anti-Jewishness soon appeared. (As noted, TMW in Sep. 1830 saw only less worthy church members left behind.) In Sep. 1832 TMW said that less worthy church members and “Jews” would be left behind. But by Mar. 1833 TMW was sure that only “Jews” would face the Antichrist!
    As late as 1837 the non-dichotomous Darby saw the church “going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews.” And he didn’t clearly teach pretrib until 1839. His basis then was the Rev. 12:5 “man child…caught up” symbol he’d “borrowed” (without giving credit) from Irving who had been the first to use it for the same purpose in 1831!
    For related articles Google “X-Raying Margaret,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Open Letter to Todd Strandberg,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by D.M., “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” The most documented and accurate book on pretrib rapture history is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online) – a 300-pager that has hundreds of disarming facts (like the ones above) not found in any other source.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X