Biblical Future Prophecy –Part 9: Notes on Tribulation Chronology

[This is the ninth in a series of articles on biblical future prophecy. The material has been adapted from the author’s book, What the Bible Says About the Future, second edition, 2011, by Sam A. Smith. To jump to the next article in this series tap or click here.]

Just as it is important to understand the events of the tribulation, it is also important to understand the chronological relationships those events bear to one another, and to other major prophetic events, such as the rapture of the Church and the millennium. The development of a chronology of tribulation events is not a simple task, but it is rewarding because it greatly aids our understanding of the events themselves. In this article we will address three areas of chronology: 1) absolute external chronology—when the tribulation will begin with respect to the present; 2) relative external chronology—when the tribulation occurs in relation to other prophesied events; and, 3) internal chronology—the approximate chronology of tribulation events.

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4 thoughts on “Biblical Future Prophecy –Part 9: Notes on Tribulation Chronology

  1. Hi Sam, I read your article on this site titled “Notes on Tribulation Chronology” and I found it interesting. I’d like to ask a few questions if you don’t mind:

    1) In the chronology of the Tribulation outlined in the article, when exactly does the 7th Trumpet sound in relation to the ministry of the Two Witnesses and the end of the Great Tribulation? In Revelation 11, the 7th Trumpet sounds shortly after the resurrection and ascension of the Two Witnesses. If the resurrection and ascension of the Two Witnesses occurs on the last day of the great tribulation, the sounding of the 7th Trumpet must also occur on the final day of the great tribulation. Revelation 11:15-19 tells us what follows upon the sounding of the 7th Trumpet – loud voices in heaven announcing “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” The plain reading of what follows the sounding of the 7th Trumpet in Revelation 11:15-19 clearly indicates that the sounding of the 7th Trumpet occurs at the end of the Tribulation and announces the Second Coming of Christ with the statement “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” I would like to know what you think about this, and your view regarding the timing of the 7th Trumpet.

    2) What do you make of the content of the 5th seal and 6th seal? Let me explain my understanding:

    My understanding is that the opening of the 5th seal reveals the martyrs of the Great Tribulation (the second half of the tribulation). We know the 5th seal martyrs are killed during the second half of the tribulation because Revelation 20:4 talks about the resurrection of these martyrs and informs us that they were beheaded for refusing to worship the beast or his image, or receive the mark of the beast [a clear reference to the second half of the tribulation]. The martyrs are avenged by Armageddon and resurrected to reign with Christ on earth.

    Furthermore, the contents of the 6th seal is a clear reference to the final day of the great tribulation when Jesus returns in glory. The opening of the sixth seal releases a tremendous upheaval of nature. There is a great earthquake; the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, the moon red as blood; and the stars of heaven fall. The upheaval affects even the mountains and islands. All people on earth are able to see the father, sitting on the throne, and the Lamb. The wrath of the Lamb falls: “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6.17). In Mathew 24:29, we read another description of the exact same event: “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.” The upheavals described in Matthew 24:29 is identical to what happens on opening the 6th seal, and it occurs on the final, and worst day, of the great tribulation.

    Thus, it seems obvious the the seals cover the entire tribulation period with seals #1-4 possibly covering the events of the first half of the tribulation, seal #5 previewing the second half of the Tribulation (martyrs of the great tribulation) and seal #6 showing us the events at the end of the tribulation (the final day of the tribulation).

    I would like to know your thoughts.

    3) If the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 minister in the second half of the Tribulation, how do we account for the additional three-and-a-half days that their bodies will lie in the streets of Jerusalem for? The Bible says they will minister for exactly 1,260 days (the exact duration of the Great Tribulation) before they are killed by the antichrist, and then their bodies will lie in the street for three-and-a-half days. If the bodies of these Two Witnesses lie in the streets for three-and-a-half days after the Great Tribulation has ended, it means their the dead bodies will still be lying in the streets three-and-a-half days AFTER the glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ. it clearly cannot be the case that Jesus would return to earth to meet the bodies of the Two Witnesses lying in the street. How do we explain this?

    4) My understanding has been that the primary purpose of the ministry of the Two Witnesses is to minister to the Jews. How do they fulfill this mission is they minister during the second half of the Tribulation? If the Jews will flee Jerusalem following the abomination of desolation at mid-Tribulation, why would the Two Witnesses, whose ministry is crucial to the revival of the Jews, remain in Jerusalem in the second half of the Tribulation after the Jews have fled the city? Who will the Two Witnesses be ministering to in Jerusalem after the Jews have fled the city? Also, with the antichrist in control of the Temple at Jerusalem in the second half of the Tribulation, how do the Two Witnesses gain access to the desecrated Temple during this period? Or will these Two Witnesses not be involved in Temple worship during their ministry just as Joshua and Zerubbabel were involved in restoring and organizing Temple worship in Zechariah chapter 4?

    Thanks.

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  2. Greetings Victor,

    Thanks for the great questions. I’ll answer them in order.

    1. Regarding the timing of the 7th Trumpet, the answer is that the seventh trumpet and the associated bowl judgments seem to be the final movement of the tribulation period; therefore, it is likely that the seventh trumpet occurs sometime during the final year of the tribulation period, possibly within months of the second coming of Christ. Revelation does not give us any more definite guidance other than that there must be time for the seven bowl judgments to occur, and it is possible that they occur in rapid sequence. As to the relation of the seventh trumpet to the ministry of the two witnesses Revelation 11:1-13 is a recursive section that backs up to the mid-point of the period and extends all the way to the end. Actually, there are two such recursive sections in the book (11:1-13 and 12:1-13:8), as well as three parenthetical sections (7:1-17, 10:1-11, and 14:1-15:8). The short of it is that even though 11:15-19 appears in the book after 11:1-13, the events occur sometime before the two witnesses are killed. The chronology of Revelation is somewhat complex and it’s helpful to see it presented graphically. (I refer you to my book: What the Bible Says About the Future, which does just that, see page 165, and supporting material. I think the entire chapter there on tribulation chronology might be helpful. The download is free.)

    2. I do not think the fifth seal pictures martyrs exclusively from the great tribulation. It seems likely that the fifth seal occurs sometime shortly after the mid-point of the period (as you seem to agree). The reference to martyrs in Revelation 20:4 is likely to all of the tribulation martyrs (from the perspective of the millennium). As to your chronology of the seals, I agree that it seems most probable that the first four seals occur in the first half with seals 5-7 occurring in the second half (based on information in Matthew 24). In fact, I think a strong case could be made that the Day of the LORD begins with the opening of the seventh seal.

    3. As to the extent of the ministry of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, I don’t think we have to suppose that their ministry begins precisely on the day of the mid-point of the tribulation. We don’t know exactly when their ministry begins or ends, only that it ends near the end of the period.

    4. As to the two witnesses, their principal ministry is not said to be specifically to the Jews, rather they will be announcing judgment upon the world for the world’s rejection of God and his Christ. As to how the witnesses gain access to the temple, they are divinely protected and enabled. In this electronic age, I suppose even the Jews in exile will be kept up-to-date on what is happening in Jerusalem.

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  3. Thanks for the responses to my questions and for the insight.

    I had been trying to get a sense of the timing of the sounding of the 7th Trumpet because some teachers place the 7th trumpet on the final day of the tribulation while others place it at mid-tribulation. That was the reason I asked the question about the timing of the 7th trumpet.

    Regarding the Two Witnesses, the fact that their bodies lie in the street for three-and-a half days is one of the arguments used by those who believe that the Two Witnesses minister in the first half of the tribulation. They say the two witnesses cannot minister in the second half because doing so would mean that their bodies lie in the streets for three-and-a half days after the glorious return of Jesus Christ to the earth, which is a very unlikely scenario.

    Also, those who place the ministry of the Two Witnesses in the first half of the tribulation usually argue that it would not be necessary for these Witnesses to remain in Jerusalem in the second half of the tribulation after the Jews flee the city at mid-tribulation. The premise for this argument is that the Two Witnesses will be ministering primarily to the Jews in the rebuilt temple during the first half the tribulation. This is because Revelation 11:4 describes them as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth”. This description is similar to the one in Zechariah 4:14 “These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth”, which is believed to be a reference to Joshua and Zerubbabel who led the Jews in rebuilding the temple and in temple worship. Thus, the reasoning is that the Two Witnesses will be involved in Temple worship and ministry to the Jews in much the same way that Joshua and Zerubbabel did.

    Once more, thank you for your time.

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  4. Greetings again Victor,

    It does not seem likely to me that all of the events included in the seventh trumpet (the seven bowls) could occur in one day, nor is there any necessity for such. The chronology placing the seventh trumpet at the mid-point of the tribulation was promoted by midtribulationists who wanted to connect the seventh trumpet of Revelation with the trumpet to be sounded at the rapture; there is no biblical evidence connecting these trumpets.

    It is true that some scholars have placed the ministry of the two witnesses in the first half of the tribulation; however, I have never seen any compelling evidence for that position, and it seems clear from Revelation 11:14 that the ministry of these witnesses overlaps with the sixth trumpet (the sixth trumpet is the “second woe”). Since the fifth seal likely occurs shortly after the mid-point of the period (based on the chronology presented in Matthew 24), and for many other reasons, the sixth trumpet could not be blown during the first half of the tribulation. Also the time of their ministry (1260 days, cf. Rev. 11:3) seems to correspond generally to the forty-two months during which Jerusalem will be trodden down (11:2), which is clearly in the second half of the period. Proponents of the view that the ministry of the two witnesses occurs in the first half of the tribulation have postulated a number of arguments (most of which you can find in J.B. Smith’s commentary on Revelation); however, in my opinion they are based on rationalizations (and poor one’s at that) not scripture.]

    Unfortunately there has been inadequate teaching on the chronology of the tribulation, and that has resulted in much confusion about the actual events, which is why I included sixty pages on tribulation chronology in my book, What the Bible Says About the Future. There is a very strong tendency to approach this issue in a backwards fashion, constructing a chronology that supports a particular view of either the tribulation or the rapture of the church. The very best approach to understanding tribulation chronology is to observe how it is developed in the Bible, principally from Daniel, to Matthew’s Gospel, to Revelation.

    Thanks again for the great observations. Keep studying!

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