The Beginning of Sorrows Precedes the Rapture
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv
Jesus Christ calls the first part of the seventieth week the beginning of sorrows. Later we will see that this period of time covers the first half of the seventieth week. In the book of Revelation Jesus takes a book from the hand of God. This book contains seven seals.
1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. (Revelation 5:1-7).
When Jesus opens the first four seals it releases four horsemen.
1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
6 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
6 4 And there went out another horse [that was] red: and [power] was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and [see] thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:1-8).
There is a very marked parallelism between the beginning of sorrows in Matthew and the four horsemen associated with the first four seals of the book of Revelation. This is a period of world wide unrest and social disruption. It begins with the coming of Antichrist as a leader of peace (the white horse) (Mt. 24:5; Rev. 6:2). As he tries to consolidate his power there is a period of unrest and civil war with wars and rumors of war (the red horse) (Mt. 24:6; Rev. 6:4.) These will be followed by famines (black horse) (Mt. 24:7; Rev. 6:5-6,) and pestilence and death (pale horse) (Luke. 21:11; Rev. 6:7-8.) The first four seals are not supernatural events but the unleashing of natural tendencies. The intensity of suffering does not increase, only the extent. Dying in a little famine or in a little war is just as bad as dying in a big famine or a big war. The book of Revelation is full of imagery taken from Old Testament prophetical books. Zechariah, in his prophecy uses imagery very similar to that used in the book of Revelation. He calls four very similar horses the four spirits of the heavens. These represent natural human tendencies which God will unbind.
These same four forces have been seen at work in a smaller scale during the past few decades. The battle of Desert Storm in Iraq was preceded by the coming of two great leaders who offered peace. The first President Bush claimed that the cold war was over and that a new world order was arising. Saddam Hussein claimed to be the one who would reestablish Arab unity. Then war broke out, lead by the two great leaders of peace and unity. Each side rained down destruction upon the other side. Next there began to be food shortages in both Iraq and Kuwait. This eventually lead to rampant diseases and death in Iraq. The same thing happened in Yugoslavia. The fall of communism was expected to bring peace and prosperity. However, multi-sided ethnic and religious civil war followed, associated with food shortages, disease, and death. The more recent invasion of Iraq was supposed to usher in democracy and prosperity, but the cost has included an increase in local terrorism and unrest.
Every part of God's plan is designed to accomplish a specific purpose. During the beginning of sorrows the Lord will accomplish two important goals. The first goal is the partial restoration of unconverted Israel to her ancestral land. This can be seen in the book of Zechariah where horses and chariots similar to those found in Revelation are associated with the restoration of Israel to their land and with the unsettling of the nations (Zechariah. 1:8-21; 6:1-8.) When Antichrist first appears he will come as the protector of the Jews. He will ratify a treaty with Israel that allows the performance of sacrifices at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Since this temple does not currently exist, it shall be rebuilt at some point in the future. The expectation of peace and the performance of sacrifices at the new temple will serve to draw many Jews back to Israel. However, most Jews remain unconverted until they see Jesus Christ at His second coming (Zechariah 12:10-13:2).
The second goal which the Lord will accomplish during the beginning of sorrows is the worldwide proclamation of the gospel. Jesus Christ said "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10.) Christ says that during this time if a believer is brought to trial he should see it as an opportunity for witness (Mark 13:11). It is imperative to realize that the church is the body which has been commissioned to proclaim the gospel as seen in the various great comission passages (Matthew. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; John 20:21; Acts 1:8.) We will look at other reasons why the church must still be present on Earth to spread the gospel during the period called the beginning of sorrows.
Some believe that a special group of 144,000 thousand Jews mentioned in the book of Revelation will be responsible for preaching the gospel during the seventieth week. However the mission of the 144,000 is a mystery because it is never mentioned in scripture. The only basis for the view that they will perform the task of missionaries comes from the order of Revelation 7 where the appearance of multitudes in heaven follows the sealing of the 144,000. However, neither passage states that there is a cause and effect relation between the two events. It is even possible that the two events are simultaneous, that the 144,000 are sealed moments before the multitude appears in heaven. Therefore, if the gospel is proclaimed during this time it seems reasonable that the church must still be present because this is the task which the Lord gave the church.
The Lord calls the gospel which is being preached during the tribulation "this gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 24:14). Some believe that this is a gospel different from the gospel of the church age. However, several observations show this to be untrue. First of all the Lord called it "this gospel." When the word 'this' is used it always refers to an item that is well known and close at hand. The only gospel or "good news" well known and close at hand to the disciple was that gospel being preached by the Lord. This is the same gospel which the apostle Paul was preaching at the end of Acts. The book ends with Paul "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him" (Acts 28:31.) It is also important to note the directness with which Christ addresses His disciples. This gives the impression that what He was describing would affect them or their successors directly, unlike what is said later concerning those living in Judea (Jews,) which is in the third person. Paul later gives stern warnings against preaching another gospel. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9). This seems to imply that there is only one message which deserves to be called the gospel.
In the middle of the narrative about the beginning of sorrows the Lord specifically states that the end has not yet arrived . "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6). This is a direct reference to the question made by the disciples which led to this discourse. Towards the end of Christ's ministry the apostles were beginning to understand that Christ would leave them and then return after a fairly long time. This can be seen in the parable of the talents. After Christ declared that Israel's rejection of himself was now official and predicted Jerusalem's destruction and His second coming, the apostles asked, "what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3). The Greek word translated world is actually the same Greek word translated age in the verse above so another way to translate this phrase would be "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" Therefore, when Jesus Christ says that the end is not yet he means that the end of the age is not yet.
The word 'age' (or 'world' in the old KJV) is used to translates the Greek word 'aioon' from which we get the English word 'eon'. It does, indeed, means 'age'. The phrase "end of the age" occurs four additional times in Matthew and in order to understand the meaning of this phrase it is important that we look at each occurrence. In each of these passages the end of the age refers to the end of the church age.
The first two occurrences are in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:39-40), a parable which describes the mixed multitude of the church age. The phrase is used in the interpretation by Jesus Christ which follows the parable.
He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked [one]; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 13:37-43).
Notice that this parable is describing the church age. The wheat represents the righteous people whom Jesus is sowing into the present world. This is clearly a description of the current church age. The word translated ‘world' in the phrse "the field is the world" is the Greek word ‘cosmos' not the word ‘aioon' which is found int the phrase "end of the world." At the end of the age Christ will send his angels to weed out the tares (probably a reference to the trumpet and vial judgments.) Since it is the church age that is being described the end of the age must be the end of the church age. The third occurrence is in the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:49), a parable which is very similar to the one previously described. Again the angels separate the bad from among the good at the end of the age. The dragnet refers to the church, so the end of the age must again be the end of the church age. Therefore, in these two parables the term end of the age is used to refer to the end of the church age. It is important to know that these parable were given before the Olivet discourse, so, when the apostles asked about the end of the age they surely had these parables in the back of their mind. In Matthew 24 the Lord clearly states that the beginning of sorrows, which is the first half of the seventieth week precedes the end of the age. Therefore, the rapture, which ends the church age, cannot occur at the beginning of the seventieth week.
The fourth occurrence of the word in Matthew is in the great commission given to the Church "lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:20). This is probably the most important of the four passages for showing the meaning of this term. Christ is speaking with his disciples after His resurrection right before His ascension into heaven. He promises his disciples to be with them until the end of the age. This promise is given directly to those men who would soon form the foundation of the church; therefore, the end of the age must be the end of the church age in this context. When the disciples heard these words of comfort from our Lord's mouth it probably brought to mind the Lord's description just a few weeks earlier of the difficult events which would precede the end of the age. As we discussed earlier, the Lord places the fulfillment of this commission in the seventieth week. According to Matthew 24:14 the church age will not end until this commission is completely carried out. Therefore, the church must still be present during the beginning of sorrows because the church is the institution designed by God for the spreading of the gospel, a task that unconverted Israel cannot accomplish.
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