The disciples asked Jesus about the sign of His coming and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). In the Lord’s reply, He outlined the significant events at the end of the age (Matthew 24:4-31). These verses describe events almost the same as the Lord's outline in Revelation 6-7 at the opening of the Seven Seals. After Revelation, chapter 7, the Lord gets into specific details. It is possible that these events all happen in the seven-year period that starts with the confirming of a peace treaty over the land of Israel (Daniel 9:27), but it is an assumption on most Bible teachers’ part. Jesus called the first three and a half years after the peace covenant is signed "the beginning of birth pains" (Matthew 24:8). As each seal is opened in the Book of Revelation chapter six, a corresponding event happens that makes the situation on earth so much worse, likened by Jesus to a woman's birth pains getting worse as the time for the birth gets near. Great persecution is initiated at the opening of the fifth seal (Revelation 6:7) against believers in Christ and Jews who will not take the mark and worship the Antichrist. Something significant is then prayed by those martyred:
9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been (Revelation 6:9-11).
Some, perhaps many, believers will be martyred for Christ at the time of the fifth seal. The opening of this seal, I believe, corresponds to Jesus’ warning about the Great Tribulation (KJV) or great distress (NIV) that He spoke about in Matthew 24:21. I am persuaded that this time should be translated as the Great Persecution instead of Great Tribulation. We don't know how far ahead in time this persecution is, but as Christians, we need to be ready to endure and not compromise our faith. Many will fall away when this persecution starts (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Based on more than 44 years of intensely studying this topic, believers in Christ cannot expect to be delivered (raptured) from the earth until sometime into this Great Tribulation or Persecution of the saints.
Some teachers say we needn't be concerned about the time ahead (how far ahead, we do not know). They say that the Church will be raptured before the Antichrist comes on the scene and the seals opened with terrible consequences on earth. They believe that the seven-year period of time is the wrath of God and that Paul taught, "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). How can the seven-year period be the wrath of God? In the passage above, some believers martyred in the Great Tribulation or Persecution will ask God,
"How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10 Emphasis mine).
This appeal to the Lord to intervene happens at the fifth seal (v. 9), sometime after the mid-point and perhaps well into the second half of the seven-year period. This cry for justice and judgment to the Lord is because judgment is not yet happening. The cry is against those persecuting true believers in Christ. The wrath and judgment have not yet started at the fifth seal persecution. The Lord’s reply encourages those believers to wait a little longer "until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been” (Revelation 6:11). In my opinion, we cannot expect the rapture to take place until sometime into the second half of the seven-year period and before the wrath and judgment of God begins. We need to be spiritually ready to learn God's Word and grow in our dependence upon Him. It's time to put away our toys and get serious about our faith. It's time to get close to Christ. When the darkness worsens, God will pour out His Spirit, and the Church will shine with His love, life, and light (Isaiah 60:1-2. Daniel 12:3). Keith Thomas
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To study this topic in more depth, click the All Studies box on the Home Page, then The End Times series. The study is number 5, The Rapture and Day of the Lord. There are also 23 studies in the Book of Revelation.