Three Purposes for the Tribulation

As I see it, there are three great purposes for the Tribulation: 1) to prepare Israel for her Messiah; 2) to bring judgment on all unbelievers and unbelieving nations; and 3) to bring salvation to the repentant lost.

1. To prepare Israel for her Messiah.This is probably the most primary purpose—that God would use His wrath to prepare Israel by tribulation, and thus to cause them to repent of their rebellion against Him. And I suppose the most well-known passage that declares by decree how Israel will come to repentance is Daniel 9:24.

According to this six-point decree and prophecy through the angel Gabriel, “Seven weeks [or 490 years] have been decreed for your people and your holy city…” The first two promises by decree are…”to finish the transgression [and]; to make an end of sin…” we will stop there because, out of the six, these two have most to do with how God brings Israel to repentance.

The first decree, “to finish the transgression,” is focused on some specific transgression. What would that be? Down through the years Israel has committed many sins, as we all have; but the transgression inferred here is obviously their sin of the rejection of Christ as their Messiah. All that will come to an end. Miraculously, God will break them during the Tribulation. They all at once will repent and turn to Him.

We don’t know in detail how it will happen, but we do know that two-thirds of the Jews will die during the horrors of the Tribulation (Zech. 13:8-9); and then, when Jesus comes, and they see Him, they will recognize Him as their Messiah and turn to Him (Zech. 12:10).

The second decree, “to make an end of sin,” will be all on God’s part, but it will nonetheless be the result of the bitterness of the Tribulation. Hence, as Ezekiel 36:25-29 describes it, He will cleanse Israel from all their filthiness and their idols; and He will give them a new heart and a new spirit.

In addition to this decree in Daniel, there are several other Old Testament prophecies of how God will prepare Israel for her Messiah. Here are three of the more prominent ones, with a few comments.

Deuteronomy 4:27-31

And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the Lord shall drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

Here we see that Israel’s suffering through trails began quite early (with their dispersion, beginning in 722 B.C.); and so, He was working on them very early, preparing their heart. And then, much later, during the bitter days of the Tribulation, He will cause them to return to the Lord and to listen to Him.

Jeremiah 30:7-11

‘Alas! for that day is great,

There is none like it;

And it is the time of Jacob’s distress,

But he will be saved from it.

8 ‘And it shall come about on that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I will break his yoke from off their neck, and will tear off their bonds; and strangers shall no longer make them their slaves. 9 ‘But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

10 ‘And fear not, O Jacob My servant,’ declares the Lord,

‘And do not be dismayed, O Israel;

For behold, I will save you from afar,

And your offspring from the land of their captivity.

And Jacob shall return, and shall be quiet and at ease,

And no one shall make him afraid.

11 ‘For I am with you,’ declares the Lord,

‘to save you;

For I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you,

Only I will not destroy you completely.

But I will chasten you justly,

And will by no means leave you unpunished.’

The day of Tribulation is called the day of Jacob’s distress (or trouble), referring to Israel. In this future time God will bring them through terrible distress in order to discipline them and to save them. In the end they will serve the Lord their God and Jesus Christ their king during His millennial kingdom (the reference of David here is a reference to Christ who is in the line of David).

Zechariah 13:8-9

“And it will come about in all the land,”

Declares the Lord,

“That two parts in it will be cut off and perish;

But the third will be left in it.

9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire,

Refine them as silver is refined,

And test them as gold is tested.

They will call on My name,

And I will answer them;

I will say, ‘They are My people,’

And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.'”

During the terrible Tribulation, two-thirds of Israel will die, but one-third will survive. And God will bring them through the fire of the Tribulation in order to make them pure just as gold and silver is refined and purified by fire.

2. To bring judgment on all unbelievers and unbelieving nations.This second purpose falls close behind in rank to the first; for all of the Tribulation is full of the judgments of God. Again, we will look at a few key passages that describe God’s judgment, with a few comments (bold text for emphasis).

Deuteronomy 30:7

And the Lord your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you.

Here we see a very early promise of judgment on unbelievers, but more specifically on Israel’s enemies.

Isaiah 13:9-12

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,

Cruel, with fury and burning anger,

To make the land a desolation;

And He will exterminate its sinners from it.

10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations

Will not flash forth their light;

The sun will be dark when it rises,

And the moon will not shed its light.

11 Thus I will punish the world for its evil,

And the wicked for their iniquity;

I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud,

And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.

12 I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold,

And mankind than the gold of Ophir.

In this passage God shows us how he will judge the unbelieving and proud sinners. He will first terrify them with earthquakes and cosmic disturbances. Then he will exterminate most of them; he will make them scarcer than pure gold.

Isaiah 24:19-22

19 The earth is broken asunder,

The earth is split through,

The earth is shaken violently.

20 The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard,

And it totters like a shack,

For its transgression is heavy upon it,

And it will fall, never to rise again.

21 So it will happen in that day,

That the Lord will punish the host of heaven, on high,

And the kings of the earth, on earth.

22 And they will be gathered together

Like prisoners in the dungeon,

And will be confined in prison;

And after many days they will be punished.

Here we have revealed to us judgment on the earth, and also judgement on the evil angels and on humans. Verse twenty-two describes the judgment of angels and humans. I believe the gathering together “like prisoners in the dungeon” is what happens after death. They (evil angels and humans) will be held in a place of holding until the final judgment, called the Great White throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). This place of holding I believe is described for us in Luke 16:19-31, where we have the story of the rich man and Lazarus. So, it appears that the holding place is full of torments, and they will be tormented even before they come to the final and eternal judgment of hell.

Jeremiah 25:32-33

Thus says the Lord of hosts,

“Behold, evil is going forth

From nation to nation,

And a great storm is being stirred up

From the remotest parts of the earth.

33 “And those slain by the Lord on that day shall be from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, gathered, or buried; they shall be like dung on the face of the ground.

Here is described for us the tremendous evil on the earth in that day; it will spread from nation to nation. And the Lord’s anger and judgment will come quickly in response, and there will not be any time to lament them, gather them or bury them. They will lie there to rot, and the rotting bodies will be as dung spread over the earth.

Zechariah 13:2

“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.

Here we have the prophecy that all idols, false prophets and unclean spirits will be removed from the earth. This will happen during the fires of the Tribulation; all evil will be removed and cleaned off the earth to make room for the coming kingdom of Messiah Jesus.

Matthew 25:31-46

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This passage describes the judgment of those who are alive immediately after He returns and before His millennial kingdom. It is often called the judgment of the nations. I would say that the judgment here is the sentence, where He says, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” But I don’t believe they go directly to the Lake of Fire. I think they will go to that holding place where the rich man is. Then after the millennial kingdom is over, they will appear at the Great White Throne judgment seat and be sentenced again and cast into the Lake of fire for eternity.

Revelation 3:10

‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.

The “hour of testing” is referring to the Tribulation, the 7-year period when God’s divine wrath is expressed as seals, trumpets, and bowls.

3. To bring salvation to the repentant lost.This has to be included as one of the Tribulation purposes, mainly because of the great many people who will be saved out of it, and also because God always desires that man be saved no matter how and where that happens. The prophet Joel declared, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32).

Now there seems to be evidence of two different Tribulation revivals: one, mostly toward the beginning of the Tribulation and another at the very end of the Tribulation.

The earlier revival is divided into two groups. The first group (Revelation 7:1-8) are no doubt all Jews, 144,000 of them, 72,000 from each of the twelve tribes. And the second group (Revelation 7:9-17) consists of “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” This group, as recorded here, has been martyred and are now “standing before the throne and before the Lamb [in heaven].” They have come out of the great Tribulation and they have been given new glorified bodies. Verse fourteen states, “And they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And then in verse 16 and 17 we read…

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.”

We don’t know exactly how this revival will be set off, but I am guessing that it will be due to the miracle of the Rapture of the church and also to the realization of the horrors of the coming wrath of God.

Now it may be assumed that this countless group are all Gentiles, but I’m not sure of it. I think most of them will be Gentiles; however, I don’t think we can rule out the possibility that a few will be Jewish. The Scriptures do not give us any indication one way or another.

Though I think most will be saved toward the beginning of the Tribulation, I also think that the work of salvation will continue to happen all through the seven years, as they hear the consistent preaching of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists and also of the two Jewish witnesses and the angels. Most of these will be martyred, but some will survive and be blessed to go into the Millennial kingdom alive.

But I think the greatest number of people who survive the Tribulation and are saved will be Jewish. This will occur at the very end when Jesus appears in the sky. This is the later revival. As I stated earlier, two-thirds of them will die in the Tribulation, but one-third of them will be left alive and will be saved (about 10 million of them; I am taking the literal view that “all will be saved”).

Here in Zechariah 13:8-9, and 12:10-11, are the details of that conversion.

Zechariah 13:8-9

“And it will come about in all the land,”

Declares the Lord,

“That two parts in it will be cut off and perish;

But the third will be left in it.

9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire,

Refine them as silver is refined,

And test them as gold is tested.

They will call on My name,

And I will answer them;

I will say, ‘They are My people,’

And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.'”

Zechariah 12:10-12

“And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. 11 “In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

Here also is the record from Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew 24:29-31

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, 30 and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

“His elect” here consists of all glorified and unglorified people in world history who will be ushered into the millennial kingdom. And a big part of that elect group will be those unglorified, saved Jews who come out of the Tribulation. Many of those will be those who will serve Him in the new millennial temple (see Ezekiel 40-48).