Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
As has been pointed out before, the destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution that the Jews experienced at that time are a type of the great tribulation that comes at the end of the ages just before the return of our Lord.
The word “tribulation” means literally “pressure,” like a boa constrictor encircling itself around its victim and slowly tightening the pressure to crush him to death. Or we might use the example of a straitjacket with sharp points, used as an instrument of torture in times past to close in on a person until he was crushed to death.
This tribulation will take place, Jesus tells us, at the end of time, when antichrist is fully in power. But just as antichrist comes gradually, so also this tribulation will increase as the time approaches.
Forty years after Jesus’ ascension the Romans took over Palestine and severely persecuted the Jews, groups of whom at times fought to the last man to resist them. The Jewish nation had become the apostate church and was therefore no longer in a typical sense the people of the Lord. They had joined themselves with the world in rejecting and crucifying the Christ. The true church would now become universal, the gathering of the elect believers with their spiritual seed throughout this present dispensation.
Jesus warned His disciples at that time and now warns us that the tribulation will be great. The likes of it have never been known. We read in Hebrews 11:33-38 of the persecution suffered by the church already in the old dispensation. We are also aware of the bitter suffering experienced by the early Christians at the time of the apostles. Historical accounts tell us that these Christians dared not always openly to reveal themselves but used the sign of the fish to show one another, especially those who were fleeing for their lives, that they believed in the Christ. The letters of the Greek word for fish spell out the words: “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” The whole new dispensation is red with the blood of martyrs who gave their lives in various ways for the sake of the gospel, even wasting away in prison, or dying at the stake or on the scaffold.
But to come closer to home, the believers who out of conviction left the State Church in the Netherlands to take part in the Secession of 1834 also experienced much suffering for the sake of the truth. The authorities allowed only small groups to meet at any one time, so that they would secretly hold their worship services in the homes orsometimes even in the open field. Since the government no longer gave them financial support, as it did to the State Church, they were compelled to support their own churches and pay the school tuition for their children from their meager incomes. It is exactly for that reason that many sought refuge in the new country of America.
Reformation is always a painful experience. It takes conviction, determination, and a willingness to be abused, scorned, and hated for the sake of maintaining that which is most precious to us. It means the loss of close friends, division, and sharp disagreement within the family. In many instances it may mean the loss of a position or a job. The Scriptures encouraged the faithful in those times, saying: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Yet all this does not begin to compare with the tribulation of those last days when the beasts ofRevelation 13, instigated by the devil, will be in power over the whole world. Everyone will willingly bow to the beast and worship him, except those who stand firm in the conviction of their faith like Daniel and his three friends. They will experience tribulation such as has never been known.
Already we see evidences of this round about us. In China tens of millions of Chinese are believed to have joined so-called house churches that operate illegally. More than seventy of these “house church” leaders have recently been placed in detention. This is but part of the persecution the Christians experience in many countries, even in Myanmar, where our sister-churches in Singapore are working. It is said that the persecution of the church is presently at an all-time high and is on the increase. Every effort will be made to wipe out the true religion.
The idea is not that there will be no public worship at the end of time, but that worship will be complete devotion to the Antichrist. He sets himself up in the place of and in opposition to the Christ. In the early stages of his kingdom he comes through false teachers who cunningly present the lie under pretense of proclaiming the truth of Scripture. He enters the church with cunningly devised fables and deceives many, as Jesus has already warned us. But the Antichrist will ultimately come out boldly, presenting himself as the Christ, the Savior of the world.
Since he comes with many signs and wonders, professing to do great things for humanity, he readily deceives many. Just as Jesus showed that He was indeed the Christ by His many signs and wonders, so also this man of sin will display his power, his ingenuity, his ability to bring peace and prosperity for the whole world. He will be so convincing that the masses will readily bow in worship before him and adore him as sovereign lord. He will sit on the throne in royal majesty as God Himself. Yes, the whole world will worship him as God, except the true believers.
This means that the true believers will no longer be able to gather in public worship. Our churches and our schools will be turned over to the worship of the beast. If any group of people dares to defy the authority by attempting to worship God, they will be duly annihilated, as the Jews were in the days of Hitler. We will not even be able to worship God in our homes. By that time the authorities may be able to detect all that is said and done within the four walls of our houses. It may very well be that we will read our Bibles and pray to God at the very risk of our lives. Every person in every nation upon the face of the earth will be required to worship the beast.
Scripture tells us that the Antichrist will require that everyone must wear a mark on his forehead or on his hand. The idea is that at all times they will be readily recognized as his followers. At the same time, those who refuse to bear that mark will also immediately be recognized by their lack of bearing the mark. Whatever that mark may be, we see already today how everyone can be distinguished by his mark, for already we are recognized by our social security number. It has even been suggested that babies will receive some sort of mark already at their birth.
This mark will be the number of man: 666. Whether this exact number will be used, we do not know. But it is possible that it will be used in some form or another, just as Nebuchadnezzar’s image was sixty cubits high and six cubits wide. In any case, the number 666 designates the week without the Sabbath, man without God. It will clearly reveal to the believer that man has become like God, denying and seeking to replace the living God and His Christ.
The result will be that we will not be able to buy or to sell. Unless we bear the mark of the beast upon our foreheads or on our right hand we will not be able to buy as much as a loaf of bread in the grocery store. No neighbor will be willing or dare to share food or clothing with us. But it means far more than that. It means that no school will accept our children, nor will we be allowed to teach them any semblance of the true faith at home. It means that no employer will give us employment. We will lose our homes, our automobiles, and whatever possessions we may treasure. Life will be all but unbearable.
Even as Jesus warned His disciples of that time to flee into the mountains, so also we must go where we can to escape the enemy and to find refuge wherever possible. Resistance will be impossible and not required. For us it will be a mere matter of survival or imprisonment or death. But the end is not far off.
Meanwhile, we must not allow ourselves to be deceived. Many will pretend to be the Christ. The beast takes on many forms of deception. If it were possible even the elect would be deceived. It is only the grace of God that preserves them even unto the end.
Christ assures us that the time will be shortened. We can rest assured of that. As distressful as the days may be, for to all outward appearance Satan has attained his ambition to be chief ruler of the world, God and His Christ still reign in the heavens. He who sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall hold them in derision. For He has set His King Christ Jesus upon the holy hill of Zion.
That also means that this is a necessary part of the carrying out of the counsel of God unto the salvation of His church. God remembers His people in all their trials and tribulations. He loves them with an eternal love and cares for them even in the time of dire distress. In some cases He will mercifully take them unto Himself. in other instances He will give them grace to bear the afflictions that are laid upon them.
There is no doubt about it that the church will be very small in that day. Jesus asks: “When the Son of man returneth shall He find faith on the earth?” There will be no sham Christians, no hypocrites in the church of that day. It may be doubtful whether the few that remain will even be able to contact each other. But the Lord knows and preserves His own even unto the end. In the meantime, He assures them: “The Judge stands at the door. Be thou (individually) faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.”
At God’s own time, when from every point of view the world is bankrupt and the church has faithfully endured her tribulation, the sign of the Son of man will appear in the clouds of heaven. Christ Himself will appear in all the glory of His exalted majesty, far more glorious than at the time of His resurrection. Every eye will see Him. The beast and its followers will see their utter failure, their lost cause, their terrible judgment. They will cry to the rocks and the mountains to hide them from the face of the Almighty.
The dead will be raised, and the entire church will join with Christ and His holy angels to be with the Lord. Then follows the final judgment.