The Nature of the Period of Tribulation
After assembling all the Scriptures that bear upon this period of time, it is not difficult to sort out four leading ideas that describe the nature of this period.
1. This period is characterized as the day of the Lord. In this sense it stands over against the day of man that has persisted from-creation to this hour. Paul characterized the present with the expression, "man's judgment", which in the original Greek is "human day" (1 Cor. 4:3). Across this long period God has been permitting men to go their own way. In patience, kindness, long‑suffering, exhortation and entreaty He has been trying to reach them. But at last the human day comes to an end, and the day of the Lord is ushered in with its manifested sovereignty (Joel 3:12-16).
"Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel."
The day of the Lord has special relation to the earth (Mal. 4:6) and is not to be confused with "the day of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 2 Thess. 2:2 ASV). The day of Christ runs concurrently with the day of the Lord, but it has special reference to Christ in His relation to the Church, and this almost wholly in the heavens. But in every instance one is impressed with the absolute and sovereign movements of a thrice holy God.
2. This period is predominately characterized as a day of judgment (Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:7; 19:2). It is the time for the pouring out of God's wrath (Zeph. 1:15,18; Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10, 19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19) upon the wicked of earth. The cup of His indignation is poured out upon the Antichrist, his accomplices, and his followers (Rev. 14:10; Isa. 26:20-21; 34:1-3). Trouble (Jer. 30:7; Zeph. 1:14-15), darkness Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18), desolation (Dan, 9:27), distress, wasteness, gloominess, clouds (Zeph. 1:l5), earthquakes (Rev. 6:12; 11:13; 16:18-20), aerial and stellar activity on a mammoth scale (Rev. 6:12-14; 8:7-12; 16:10), and devastation and death are present everywhere (Rev. 6:8-11; 8:7-11; 9:18; 11:13,18; 14:20; 19:21).
3. This period is also characterized as a day of salvation. Men are saved under the most adverse circumstances. Two great throngs are saved during the period of the tribulation: the 144,000 during the first three and one half years, doubtless as a result of the ministry of two witnesses (Rev. 11:3 with 7:1-8). These are Jews, During the last half of this period an unnumbered multitude of Gentiles are saved, perhaps due to the ministry of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:9-17), These pay with their lives for embracing Christ (Rev. 6:9-11). But there is still a vast host of Gentiles who do not suffer death, even though they take their stand for Christ. These are the sheep of Matt. 25:31-46, the children of the kingdom referred to in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:38-43).
4. Finally, this period is a day of discrimination (Mal. 4:1-3). Even though this is predominantly a time of Judgment during which God in sovereign grace and power saves millions, He does so because He is determined to discriminate among people. This day of the Lord will be darkness and not light to apostate Jewry (Amos 5:18). Determined to make a difference among His people, God seals 144,000 to protect them from the judgments upon the world and the persecutions of the Antichrist (Rev. 7:1-8). He protects the two witnesses for the period of their ministry (Rev. 11:3-6). Against the persecutions of the Antichrist a great multitude in Israel is supernaturally enabled to flee to the wilderness for protection (Rev. 12:6, 13-14), and when Antichrist besieges this natural fortress, a great earthquake swallows up his mobilized legions (Rev. 12:16). Though judgments fall upon the earth, the seas, the rivers, and the kingdoms of men, there is such discrimination that the Lord's own are protected. And at last the days are shortened for the elect's sake (Matt. 24:22), and when Antichrist is about to annihilate Israel in Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus comes and fights for His people (Zech. 14:1-4).