“Stand up straight and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is getting near.”—LUKE 21:28.
1. What events occurred in the year 66? (See opening picture.)
IMAGINE that you were a Christian living in Jerusalem in the year 66. A lot had been happening. A Roman official named Florus had stolen 17 talents from the temple treasury. The Jews immediately became angry. They killed many Roman soldiers and declared independence from Rome. But Rome reacted quickly. Within three months, 30,000 soldiers led by Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem. The Jewish rebels hid in the temple fortress, but Roman soldiers eventually got to the outer wall of the temple and tried to break in. Everyone within the city began to panic. How would you have felt at seeing all of this?
2. What did Christians need to do when they saw Roman soldiers surrounding their city, and how was this possible?
2 Years before, Jesus had warned his disciples about this event and instructed them: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. 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 21:20, 21) How would it be possible for them to obey Jesus’ instructions to leave Jerusalem when there were soldiers surrounding the city? Something amazing happened. The Roman army suddenly left Jerusalem! As Jesus said, the attack was “cut short.” (Matthew 24:22) Once the army had left, it was now the opportunity for faithful Christians to obey Jesus by immediately fleeing to the mountains.* (See footnote.) Later, in the year 70, a new Roman army returned to Jerusalem. This time, they destroyed the city. But everyone who obeyed Jesus’ instructions was saved.
3. What similar situation will Christians soon experience, and what will we discuss in this article?
3 Jesus’ warning and instructions also apply to our day. Very soon, we will be in a similar situation. Jesus used the events in the first century to explain what will happen when the “great tribulation” suddenly begins. (Matthew 24:3, 21, 29) Just as there were faithful Christians who survived the destruction of Jerusalem, there will be a “great crowd” who will survive the coming worldwide disaster. (Read Revelation 7:9, 13, 14.) It is very important that we understand what the Bible tells us about these future events. Why? Because our life depends on it. So let us discuss how these events will affect us personally.
THE BEGINNING OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
4. How will the great tribulation begin?
4 How will the great tribulation begin? With the destruction of all false religion. In the Bible, false religion is called “Babylon the Great, the mother of the prostitutes.” (Revelation 17:5-7) Why is false religion called a prostitute? Because its clergy have been unfaithful to God. Instead of loyally supporting Jesus and his Kingdom, they have supported human governments and ignored Bible teachings in order to have more influence. Their worship is not like the clean worship of the anointed. (2 Corinthians 11:2; James 1:27; Revelation 14:4) But who will destroy Babylon the Great? Jehovah will cause “the ten horns” of the “scarlet-colored wild beast” to “carry out his thought.” The “scarlet-colored wild beast” represents the United Nations, and “the ten horns” represent all the political powers that support it.—Read Revelation 17:3, 16-18.
5, 6. Why do we say that the destruction of Babylon the Great does not mean the death of all its members?
5 Will all members of false religion be killed when Babylon the Great is destroyed? No. Jehovah inspired the prophet Zechariah to write about what will happen. At that time, someone who was once part of false religion 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.’” (Zechariah 13:4-6) So even religious leaders will pretend that they are not religious and will deny that they were ever part of those false religions.
6 What will happen to God’s people during 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.” (Matthew 24:22) In the first century, the tribulation in Jerusalem was “cut short.” This allowed “the chosen ones,” the anointed Christians, to flee. In a similar way, the first part of the great tribulation will be “cut short” because of “the chosen ones.” The political powers, “the ten horns,” will not be allowed to destroy God’s people. Instead, there will be a short time of calm once the initial attack is over.
A TIME OF TESTING AND JUDGMENT
7, 8. What opportunity will there be after the destruction of false religion, and how will God’s people be different from everyone else at that time?
7 What will happen after the destruction of false religion? It will be a time to show what is really in our heart. At that time, most humans will try to get protection and help from human organizations, “the rocks of the mountains.” (Revelation 6:15-17) But Jehovah’s people will look to him for protection. When the attack was “cut short” in the first century, it was not the time for all the Jews suddenly to convert to Christianity. Rather, it was the time for those who were already Christians to get out of Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed. In a similar way in the future, when the attack against Babylon the Great is “cut short,” we cannot expect that many people will suddenly convert to true Christianity. Instead, it will be an opportunity for all true worshippers to prove their love for Jehovah and to support the anointed.—Matthew 25:34-40.
It will be an opportunity to prove our love for Jehovah and to support the anointed
8 We do not know exactly what will happen during that time of test. However, we do expect that life will not be easy and that we will need to make sacrifices. In the first century, Christians had to leave their homes and endure difficulties in order to survive. (Mark 13:15-18) We should ask ourselves: ‘Am I ready to give up material things? Am I willing to do whatever is necessary to remain loyal to Jehovah?’ Just think! At that time, we will be the only ones worshipping our God no matter what happens, as did the prophet Daniel.—Daniel 6:10, 11.
The time for “the end” will have come!
9, 10. (a) What message will God’s people declare during the great tribulation? (b) How will the enemies of God’s people react?
9 The great tribulation will not be the time to preach the “good news of the Kingdom.” The time to preach that message will have passed. The time for “the end” will have come! (Matthew 24:14) God’s people will boldly declare a strong message of judgment that will affect all people. The message may be that Satan’s wicked world is about to be totally destroyed. The Bible compares 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.”—Revelation 16:21.
10 Our enemies will hear this strong message. Jehovah inspired the prophet Ezekiel to explain how a group of nations, called in the Bible Gog of Magog, will react: “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.’” (Ezekiel 38:10-12) God’s people will stand out as different from everyone else, as if they “are living in the center of the earth.” The nations will no longer be able to hold themselves back. They will be eager to attack Jehovah’s anointed ones and those who support them.
11. (a) What do we need to remember about the order of events during the great tribulation? (b) How will people react when they see the signs?
11 What will happen next? The Bible does not tell us the exact order of events, but some events will probably happen at the same time. In his prophecy about the conclusion of this system of things, Jesus said: “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 sky? We must wait to find out. However, we do know that when God’s enemies see the signs, they will be terrified and they will panic.
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”? He will reward those who are faithful and will punish those who are not. (Matthew 24:46, 47, 50, 51; 25:19, 28-30) Jesus used an illustration to explain this in more detail. He said: “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.” (Matthew 25:31-33) What will happen to the sheep and the goats? They will be judged. The goats, or the unfaithful ones, “will depart into everlasting cutting-off.” But the sheep, or the faithful ones, will receive everlasting life.—Matthew 25:46.
13 How will the goats react when they realize that they will be destroyed? They “will beat themselves in grief.” (Matthew 24:30) But how will the anointed and those who support them react? They will do what Jesus said: “As these things start to occur, stand up straight and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28.
SHINING BRIGHTLY IN THE KINGDOM
14, 15. What gathering work will occur after the start of the attack by Gog of Magog, and how will this happen?
14 What will happen after Gog of Magog starts to attack God’s people? The Bible says that 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; Matthew 24:31) This gathering work does not refer to the time when anointed Christians are first chosen. And it does not refer to the final sealing of the anointed still on earth. (Matthew 13:37, 38) That sealing happens just before the start of the great tribulation. (Revelation 7:1-4) So, what is this gathering work? It is the time when the anointed still on earth will receive their reward and go to heaven. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Revelation 14:1) This event will happen at some point after Gog of Magog begins to attack. (Ezekiel 38:11) Then, just as Jesus said, “the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.”—Matthew 13:43.* (See footnote.)
15 Does this mean that there will be a “rapture” of the anointed? Many people in Christendom believe that Christians will be taken to heaven in a human body. They also think that they will see Jesus visibly return to rule the earth. However, the Bible clearly shows that Jesus’ return is invisible when it says: “The sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven” and, Jesus will come “on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 24:30) The Bible also says that “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.”* (See footnote.) (Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-53.) We do not use the word “rapture” here to describe this event because of its connection to Christendom’s false teaching. However, the faithful anointed still on earth will be gathered together instantly.
16, 17. What must happen before the marriage of the Lamb?
16 Once all the 144,000 anointed are in heaven, the final preparations for the marriage of the Lamb can begin. (Revelation 19:9) But something else must happen before that exciting event. Remember that Gog will attack God’s people while the remaining anointed ones are still on earth. (Ezekiel 38:16) How will God’s people react? They will obey the following instructions: “You will not need to fight this battle. Take your position, stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah in your behalf. . . . Do not be afraid or be terrified.” (2 Chronicles 20:17) Sometime after the attack of Gog begins, all the remaining anointed ones on earth will be taken to heaven. Then Revelation 17:14 tells us about the reaction in heaven to Gog’s attack. The enemies of God’s people “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.” Thus, Jesus, together with his 144,000 anointed kings in heaven, will rescue God’s people here on earth.
17 That rescue will result in the battle of Armageddon, which will bring glory to Jehovah’s holy name. (Revelation 16:16) All those who are judged as goats, or as unfaithful, will be destroyed. There will be no more wickedness on earth, and the “great crowd” will survive Armageddon. Finally, the exciting end to the book of Revelation can take place, the marriage of the Lamb! (Revelation 21:1-4)* (See footnote.) All who survive on the earth will enjoy God’s favor and experience his great love and generosity. We eagerly look forward to that time. What a marriage feast that will be!—Read 2 Peter 3:13.
18. With the foretold exciting events soon to come, what should we be determined to do?
18 With these exciting events soon to come, what should each of us be doing now? Jehovah inspired the apostle Peter 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 Peter 3:11, 12, 14) Let us, then, be determined to keep our worship pure, with no connection to false religion, and support the King of Peace, Jesus Christ.
The physical bodies of the anointed alive at that time will not be taken to heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:48, 49) Their bodies will likely be disposed of in the same way that Jesus’ body was removed.
Psalm 45 also gives some details of the order of events. First the King fights the war, and then the marriage takes place.