“Stand up straight and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is getting near.”—LUKE 21:28.
1. What events took place in 66 C.E.? (See opening image.)
IMAGINE that you are a Christian living in Jerusalem in 66 C.E. A lot has been happening around you. First, the Roman procurator Florus seized 17 talents from the sacred temple treasury. Immediately, Jews rose in revolt, slaughtering the Roman forces in Jerusalem and asserting their independence from Rome. But Rome reacted swiftly. Within three months, 30,000 troops appeared on the scene, led by the Roman governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus. The soldiers quickly entered the suburbs of Jerusalem, and the Jewish rebels retreated to the safety of the temple fortress. Next, the Roman soldiers started to undermine the outer wall of the temple area! Panic is spreading throughout the city. How do you feel as you see all of this happening?
2. What action did Christians in 66 C.E. need to take, and how was this made possible?
2 No doubt you remember the words of Jesus as recorded by the Gospel writer Luke: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near.” (Luke 21:20) However, you may wonder, ‘How can I obey the instructions given along with that warning?’ Jesus also said: “Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, let those in the midst of her leave, and let those in the countryside not enter into her.” (Luke 21:21) How can you possibly leave Jerusalem with so many troops surrounding it? Then, an amazing thing happens. Right before your very eyes, the Roman troops start to retreat! As foretold, their attack is being “cut short.” (Matt. 24:22) Now you have the opportunity to obey Jesus’ instructions. Immediately you flee to the mountains across the Jordan River, along with all the other faithful Christians in the city and its surroundings.* Then, in 70 C.E., a new Roman army heads for Jerusalem and destroys the city. But your life is spared because you obeyed Jesus’ instructions.
3. What similar situation will Christians soon face, and what will we consider in this article?
3 Soon, very soon, each of us will face a similar situation. Jesus not only warned Christians about the destruction of Jerusalem but also used those first-century events to parallel what will occur when the “great tribulation” suddenly breaks out. (Matt. 24:3, 21, 29) In fact, the good news is that “a great crowd” of people will survive this worldwide catastrophe. (Read Revelation 7:9, 13, 14.) What does the Bible tell us about these upcoming events? We should be keenly interested in the answer, for our very salvation is involved. Let us now examine in detail how these future events will affect us personally.
THE BEGINNING OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
4. What will mark the start of the great tribulation, and how will this happen?
4 How will the great tribulation begin? The book of Revelation answers by describing the destruction of “Babylon the Great.” (Rev. 17:5-7) How appropriate that all false religion is likened to a prostitute! The clergy have prostituted themselves with the leaders of this wicked world. Instead of loyally supporting Jesus and his Kingdom, they have given their support to human rulers and have compromised godly principles just to gain political influence. They stand in stark contrast with the clean, virginlike anointed ones of God. (2 Cor. 11:2; Jas. 1:27; Rev. 14:4) But who will destroy the harlotlike organization? Jehovah God will put “his thought” into the hearts of “the ten horns” of the “scarlet-colored wild beast.” These horns represent all the present political powers that give support to the United Nations, an organization pictured by the “scarlet-colored wild beast.”—Read Revelation 17:3, 16-18.
5, 6. Why do we conclude that the destruction of Babylon the Great does not mean the death of all religious people?
5 Should we conclude, though, that the destruction of the religions of Babylon the Great results in the death of all the former members of those religions? Apparently not. The prophet Zechariah was inspired to write about that time. Speaking of someone who was previously part of false religion, the account states: “He will say, ‘I am no prophet. I am a man cultivating the soil, because a man bought me when I was young.’ And if someone asks him, ‘What are these wounds between your shoulders?’ he will answer, ‘Wounds I received in the house of my friends.’” (Zech. 13:4-6) So, apparently, even some of the clergy will abandon their religious course and deny that they were ever part of those false religions.
6 How will God’s people fare at that time? Jesus explains: “In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.” (Matt. 24:22) As we considered, in 66 C.E. the tribulation was “cut short.” This allowed “the chosen ones,” anointed Christians, to flee the city and its environs. Likewise, the initial part of the future great tribulation will be “cut short” because of “the chosen ones.” The political “ten horns” will not be allowed to annihilate God’s people. Rather, there will be a brief respite.
A TIME OF TESTING AND JUDGMENT
7, 8. What opportunity will present itself after the destruction of false religious organizations, and how will God’s faithful people stand out as different at that time?
7 What will happen after the destruction of false religious organizations? It will be a time to reveal what is really in our heart. The majority of mankind will seek refuge in human organizations that are likened to “the rocks of the mountains.” (Rev. 6:15-17) Figuratively speaking, however, God’s people will flee to the refuge that Jehovah provides. In the first century, the interval was not a time for a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity. It was a time for action and obedience on the part of those who were already Christians. Similarly, we cannot expect that the future interruption in the great tribulation will result in an influx of new believers. Rather, it will be an opportunity for all true believers to prove their love for Jehovah and give their support to Christ’s brothers.—Matt. 25:34-40.
8 Although we do not fully understand all that will happen during that time of test, we can expect that it will involve some measure of sacrifice. In the first century, Christians had to leave behind their possessions and endure hardships in order to survive. (Mark 13:15-18) To remain faithful, will we be willing to experience material loss? Will we be ready to do whatever is required of us to prove our loyalty to Jehovah? Just think! At that time, we will be the only ones following the example of the ancient prophet Daniel by continuing to worship our God no matter what.—Dan. 6:10, 11.
9, 10. (a) What message will God’s people deliver at that time? (b) How will the enemies of God’s people react?
9 This will not be the time to preach the “good news of the Kingdom.” That time will have passed. The time for “the end” will have come! (Matt. 24:14) No doubt God’s people will proclaim a hard-hitting judgment message. This may well involve a declaration announcing that Satan’s wicked world is about to come to its complete end. The Bible likens this message to hailstones when it says: “Great hailstones, each about the weight of a talent, fell from heaven on the people, and the people blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, for the plague was unusually great.”—Rev. 16:21.
10 None of this will go unnoticed by our enemies. Under inspiration, the prophet Ezekiel explains what Gog of Magog, a coalition of nations, will do: “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah says: ‘In that day thoughts will come into your heart, and you will devise an evil plan. You will say: “I will invade the land of unprotected settlements. I will come against those living in security, without disturbance, all of them living in settlements unprotected by walls, bars, or gates.” It will be to take much spoil and plunder, to attack the devastated places that are now inhabited and a people regathered from the nations, who are accumulating wealth and property, those who are living in the center of the earth.’” (Ezek. 38:10-12) Spiritually speaking, God’s people will stand out as unique, “in the center of the earth,” as it were. This will be too much for the nations. Yes, they will be eager to attack Jehovah’s anointed ones as well as their associates.
11. (a) What do we need to remember with regard to the sequence of events during the great tribulation? (b) How will people react to the signs that will appear in heaven?
11 As we examine what happens next, we need to keep in mind that God’s Word does not reveal the exact time order of events. It seems likely that some events will overlap. Jesus states in his prophecy about the conclusion of this system of things: “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation. People will become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:25-27; read Mark 13:24-26.) Will the fulfillment of this prophecy include frightening signs and events in the literal heavens? We will have to wait and see. But whatever the case, the signs will cause terror and panic in the hearts of God’s enemies.
12, 13. (a) What will happen when Jesus comes “with power and great glory”? (b) How will God’s servants react at that time?
12 What will happen when Jesus comes “with power and great glory”? This will be a time for rewarding those who are faithful and for punishing those who are not. (Matt. 24:46, 47, 50, 51; 25:19, 28-30) According to Matthew, Jesus finished giving the composite sign with the parable of the sheep and the goats, saying: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.” (Matt. 25:31-33) What judgment will the sheep and the goats hear pronounced on them? The parable finishes with the words: “These [the goats] will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”—Matt. 25:46.
13 How will the goats react when they realize that “everlasting cutting-off” awaits them? They “will beat themselves in grief.” (Matt. 24:30) But how will Christ’s brothers and their faithful companions react at that time? With full faith in Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ, they will heed Jesus’ command: “As these things start to occur, stand up straight and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) Yes, we will have a positive attitude, confident of deliverance.
SHINING BRIGHTLY IN THE KINGDOM
14, 15. What gathering work will occur after the start of the attack by Gog of Magog, and what does this gathering work involve?
14 What will happen after Gog of Magog starts the attack on God’s people? Both Matthew and Mark record the same event: “[The Son of man] will send out the angels and will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from earth’s extremity to heaven’s extremity.” (Mark 13:27; Matt. 24:31) This gathering work does not refer to the initial ingathering of anointed ones; nor does it refer to the final sealing of the remaining anointed ones. (Matt. 13:37, 38) That sealing happens before the outbreak of the great tribulation. (Rev. 7:1-4) So, what is this gathering work that Jesus mentions? It is the time when the remaining ones of the 144,000 will receive their heavenly reward. (1 Thess. 4:15-17; Rev. 14:1) This event will take place at some point after the beginning of the attack by Gog of Magog. (Ezek. 38:11) Then these words of Jesus will be fulfilled: “At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.”—Matt. 13:43.*
15 Does this mean that there will be a “rapture” of the anointed ones? Many in Christendom believe, according to this teaching, that Christians will be bodily caught up from the earth. Then, they expect that Jesus will visibly return to rule the earth. However, the Bible clearly shows that “the sign of the Son of man” will appear in heaven and that Jesus will come “on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 24:30) Both of these expressions imply invisibility. Additionally, “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom.” So those who will be taken to heaven will first need to be “changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, during the last trumpet.”* (Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-53.) Therefore, while we do not use the term “rapture” here because of its wrong connotation, the remaining faithful anointed will be gathered together in an instant of time.
16, 17. What must happen before the marriage of the Lamb can take place in heaven?
16 Once all the 144,000 are in heaven, the final preparations for the marriage of the Lamb can begin. (Rev. 19:9) But something else will happen before that joyous event. Remember, shortly before the remaining ones of the 144,000 are taken to heaven, Gog will attack God’s people. (Ezek. 38:16) What reaction does this provoke? On earth, God’s people will appear to be defenseless. They will obey the instructions given in the days of King Jehoshaphat: “You will not need to fight this battle. Take your position, stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah in your behalf. O Judah and Jerusalem, do not be afraid or be terrified.” (2 Chron. 20:17) In heaven, however, there is a different reaction. Referring to the time when all the anointed are in heaven, Revelation 17:14 tells us this about the enemies of God’s people: “These will battle with the Lamb, but because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also, those with him who are called and chosen and faithful will do so.” Together with his 144,000 corulers in heaven, Jesus will come to the rescue of God’s people here on earth.
17 The resulting war of Armageddon will lead to the magnifying of Jehovah’s holy name. (Rev. 16:16) At that time, all goatlike ones “will depart into everlasting cutting-off.” The earth will finally be cleansed of all wickedness, and the great crowd will pass through the final part of the great tribulation. With all preparations completed, the climax of the book of Revelation, the marriage of the Lamb, can take place. (Rev. 21:1-4)* All those surviving on the earth will bask in God’s favor and experience bounteous expressions of his love. What a marriage feast that will be! Do we not look forward to that day with eager expectation?—Read 2 Peter 3:13.
18. With the foretold exciting events just ahead of us, what should be our resolve?
18 With these exciting events ahead of us, what should each of us now be doing? The apostle Peter was inspired to write: “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, consider what sort of people you ought to be in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion, as you await and keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah . . . Therefore, beloved ones, since you are awaiting these things, do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.” (2 Pet. 3:11, 12, 14) Let us, then, be resolved to remain spiritually clean, supporting the King of Peace.
The fleshly bodies of the anointed alive at that time will not be taken to heaven. (1 Cor. 15:48, 49) Their bodies will likely be disposed of in the same manner that Jesus’ body was removed.
Psalm 45 also gives an indication of the sequence of events. First the King fights the war, and then the marriage takes place.