The Tribulation Judgments
Are they sequential and are they natural or supernatural?
© Pat Marvenko Smith
Are the judgments during the Tribulation sequential in nature?
Scholars who reject the premillennial interpretation of end time prophecy have always played games with the book of Revelation in order to get around the clear teaching in chapter 20 that Jesus is going to return and reign for a thousand years.
Some have spiritualized this passage into nothingness. Others have argued that the judgments in Revelation are repetitive rather than sequential. Their argument is that the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments are all descriptions of the same thing — namely, the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred about forty years after the establishment of the Church. So, in Revelation 19, Jesus is seen as returning in 70 A.D. to pour out God's wrath on the Jews, and chapter 20 is viewed as His subsequent reign over the Church.
There are certainly flash-backs and flash-forwards in the book of Revelation, but most of the action is clearly sequential in nature, and that is the biblical approach that is incorporated into the "Left Behind" series.
The judgments are definitely not circular or repetitive in nature. The seal judgments kill one-fourth of humanity (Revelation 6:8). The trumpet judgments result in the death of one-third of those remaining (Revelation 9:15). The bowl judgments do not result in massive deaths at all. Instead, they produce widespread intense suffering, and the fifth bowl (darkness) is focused upon the capital of the Antichrist (Revelation 16:1-16).
To argue that Revelation 20 portrays Jesus' reign over the world through the Church, one would have to spiritualize the thousand years, since the Church has existed almost 2,000 years. The chapter refers six times to the reign of Jesus lasting a thousand years. What would God have to say to convince us that He means a thousand years?
Also, it is painfully clear that the Church is not reigning over the world. Jesus may be reigning over His Church, but He obviously is not reigning over the world through His Church, for all the nations of the earth are in rebellion against God and His Anointed One (Psalm 2).
Are the Tribulation judgments natural or supernatural in nature?
Actually there are three possible sources of the death and devastation so pointedly predicted by Scripture during the Tribulation. First, it could be that the great and terrible destructions predicted will be brought about supernaturally by God Himself without any other possible explanation. Until the nuclear age this was the primary view, as it was hard to see how such a scenario could be brought about by natural human means. In the Old Testament we find God killing 185,000 of Israel's enemies by one angel, without any natural explanation. If one angel can wipe out that many people, it should not be too much trouble for all the hosts of God's angelic armies to destroy three quarters of the earth's population.
Secondly, some of the judgments predicted could possibly come from the cosmic disturbances created by a comet whose path leads it uncomfortably close to the earth. Global earthquakes and tidal waves, resulting in famines on an unprecedented scale would almost certainly be the result. Some, but probably not all, of these judgments could be brought about this way.
The third, and in my mind, the most likely explanation for the terrible judgments which will empty the earth, has to do with nuclear weapons. Since the end of World War II, nuclear weapons have been proliferating all over the globe. At first limited to the United States, then produced by the Soviet Union, they are now in the hands of all sorts of second and third rate powers. It seems almost every year that new nations are added to the list of those countries with nuclear capabilities. Our capacity to destroy all life on earth has multiplied many times over. The fact that we have not yet seen a nuclear war since 1945 can be attributed only to the restraining hand of Almighty God! Surely it is His hand that has prevented us from destroying one another up until this point. How long that hand will continue to restrain us, only God knows.
Quaint Terms for Modern Weapons
It was Hal Lindsey who first popularized the theory that the terrible plagues and judgments seen and described by John in the book of Revelation might be a First Century man's description of a thermonuclear war. In his book There's A New World Coming (1973), Lindsey refers to the fractional orbital bomb, and then goes on to cite nuclear passages in the book of Revelation: "It [the bomb] consists of a dozen or so nuclear-tipped missiles which can be fired simultaneously from an orbiting space platform. Because the missiles come straight down from the sky, they can strike several cities simultaneously and with virtually no warning. When these missiles streak through the air they'll look like meteors showering the atmosphere! (Possibly fulfilling Revelation 6:13: 'the stars of heaven fell to the earth.')"
The Apostle John's description of the sun becoming black as sackcloth and the moon becoming like blood perfectly describes the phenomena that would result from massive amounts of dust and debris blown into the sky by multiple nuclear bursts.
"And the atmosphere was pushed apart like a scroll when it is rolled together" (Revelation 6:14). Do you know what happens in a nuclear explosion? The atmosphere rolls back on itself! It's this tremendous rush of air back into the vacuum that causes much of the destruction of a nuclear explosion. John's words in this verse are a perfect picture of an all-out nuclear exchange... The whole world will be literally shaken apart!
As we read the book of Revelation, we find John did not use terms like "nuclear weapons, ICBM's, or fractional orbital bombs." Instead we find him describing things like "hail and fire," "a great mountain burning with fire," and "a great star... burning like a torch." This is what we would expect of a First Century man, describing things he had no knowledge of in the only terms he knew to use. Could it be that what John was really witnessing in the Spirit, was an end of the age nuclear holocaust? The effects he describes certainly seem to bear this out.
Revelation Study Resources
- Revelation: An Overview multimedia training kit covers the book of Revelation verse by verse.
- Dr. Reagan's book, Wrath and Glory, covers the book of Revelation chapter by chapter.
- Dr. Reagan's video program, Revelation Revealed, presents a sweeping overview of the entire book of Revelation.