By John F. Walvoord
Major Events Preceding the Second Coming of Christ
The Second Coming of Christ is preceded by a number of world-shaking events that must occur before Christ can return. This is in contrast to the rapture of the church, which is always presented in Scripture as an imminent event. The Second Coming, however, is a climax of what God is doing with the world to prepare it for Christ’s millennial kingdom. Many detailed prophecies relate to this period, and understanding this helps one to analyze current world affairs as shaping up in preparation for these events.
The Revival of the Roman Empire
In Daniel’s presentation of the four great empires in chapter 7, the fourth empire, though not named, is clearly to be identified with the Roman government. In the revelation of Daniel 7, the prophet sees four great beasts, the first being a lion, representing Babylon, the second a bear, representing Medo-Persia, and the third a leopard, representing the empire of Alexander. The student of Daniel’s prophecies does not have to guess at this because Daniel names the second and third empires as that of Medo-Persia and Greece (Daniel 8:20-21). The fourth beast, which follows the Grecian empire, however, is not named but is described as “terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns” (Dan. 7:7). The description here of the fourth empire fits accurately the Roman Empire from God’s point of view.
The Roman legion conquered country after country and carried off able-bodied men as slaves and enforced their rule by leaving contingents of soldiers in each country. It literally “devoured its victims and trampled underfoot” each country. In the explanation given to Daniel concerning the four beasts and the ten kingdoms, he was told: “The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom” (Dan. 7:23-24). The prophecies of the four empires have already been fulfilled in history except that the Roman Empire has never developed into a ten-nation kingdom. Accordingly, many believe that this is a future situation that will take place after the Rapture of the church.
Many prophecies of the Old Testament that deal with the end of the age leap from the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ without taking into account the present age. This is true of the feet of the image in Daniel 2, and it is also true of the prophecy concerning the fourth kingdom, which today seemingly has disappeared, but in Scripture will be revived in the ten-nation form preceding the second coming of Christ. As the fourth kingdom is finally terminated by Jesus Christ’s coming from heaven (Dan. 7:13-14), it becomes clear that this form of the kingdom will emerge before the second coming of Christ.
The Emergence of Antichrist
In addition to explaining that the empire will consist of ten kingdoms, Daniel was told that there will be an eleventh horn, an individual who will conquer them all. This is stated in Daniel 7:8, “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.” This eleventh horn, obviously, is another king distinct from the ten kings mentioned earlier. At Daniel’s request, explanation was given to him about it in Daniel 7:24, “After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings.” As it is also stated in 7:23, he will eventually conquer the entire world, and it seems clear that he gains control of all these ten kingdoms before he rises to become a world dictator.
In Revelation 13:1-10 another prophetic vision was given concerning this fourth beast. Revelation 13:1 states that it has ten horns and ten crowns. In the final empire, the beast gathers in all of the preceding empires pictured as a lion, a bear, and a leopard. John writes, “The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion” (Rev. 13:2). From Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 it may be concluded that the Bible speaks of a future world empire that will be a revival of the Roman Empire that was in existence when Christ was on earth. The extent of the power of this world empire is given in Revelation 13:5-7 :
The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.
According to the book of Revelation, this ruler will head the world government for forty-two months. This forty-two month period is the last three-and-a-half years prior to the second coming of Christ. In that period there will be a time of unprecedented trouble. This is described in Daniel 12:1, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.”
Christ also spoke of this time of trouble preceding His second coming when He told some of the disciples, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Matt. 24:21-22). In Matt. 24:29-30 Christ goes on to explain to His disciples that His second coming will bring this time of trouble to a close:
Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
The Covenant with Israel
Christ will deal with the world of the Gentiles pictured in the ten-nation group and the world empire that follows, according to Daniel, in the seven-year period leading up to His second coming. This is part of the “seventy times seven” (490) years of God’s dealing with the people of Israel (Dan. 9:24-27), beginning with the restoration of the city of Jerusalem in 444 B.C.
These 490 years, however, are divided into three periods, with the first two consecutive, but the last seven years will be separated from the preceding period by the present age that intervenes, during which God is calling out His church. Once the rapture of the church takes place, however, it will be possible for God to bring about the fulfillment of the last seven years described in Daniel 9:27, “He [the ruler who will come, v. 26] will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” The last seven years preceding the Second Coming begin when the covenant is made, probably shortly after the Rapture.
Daniel 9:27 describes the final seven years leading up to the second coming of Christ and divides it into two periods, the first being the three-and-a-half years during which the covenant is observed and the second being the three-and-a-half years when the covenant is broken, resulting in the termination of Jewish sacrifices in their temple. The Jews will make this seven-year covenant with the ruler over the ten kingdoms who later becomes the world dictator. Though the term Antichrist is never applied directly to this world ruler, he will be the ultimate fulfillment of predictions of the Antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7).
Antichrist is anyone who opposes Christ or who claims to be a substitute for Christ. The apostle John declared that the Antichrist is coming, but that there are many antichrists: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). John further defines an antichrist, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). John further describes an antichrist as one who denies that Christ came in the flesh as God in 1 John 4:3, “but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” The same explanation is given in 2 John 7. The future world ruler who governs ten nations and later becomes dictator over the whole world is the Antichrist because he is against Christ and is a substitute for Christ, as the prefix “anti” means.
Three Periods Between the Rapture and the Second Coming
In a study of all the passages that relate to the end time, it becomes clear that there are three major time periods between the Rapture and the Second Coming. The first is the period of preparation, a relatively short period, in which the ten-nation kingdom emerges. Its leader rises to conquer first three and then all ten kingdoms. When this leader becomes powerful, because of his backing of the ten kingdoms, he is able to make the covenant with Israel for seven years described in Daniel 9:27. This introduces the second period of time, which covers the first half of the seven years mentioned in the covenant. In the middle of the seven years, however, a dramatic change takes place, and the ruler of the ten kingdoms becomes a world dictator, apparently without a war. This sets the stage for the third period, the last three-and-a-half years leading up to the second coming of Christ. Accordingly, there is first a period of preparation leading up to the seven-year period. Then there will be three-and-a-half years of peace, the second period, and this will be followed by the third of great trouble and tribulation. The third period will be followed immediately by the Second Coming.
The War with Russia
In Ezekiel 38-39 a strange war is predicted in which a great nation to the north of Israel, a reference to Russia (Ezek. 36:15; 38:6, 15; 39:2), will be joined by a number of other nations in a sneak attack upon Israel at a time when Israel is at peace (Ezek. 38:11). Though a number of explanations have been given of the prophecy, it seems that this Soviet invasion will come during the first three-and-a-half years leading up to the second coming of Christ. This would correspond to the time of peace described in Ezekiel 38 (see 1 Thess. 5:3). This war turns out to be a disaster for Russia and her other allies (Ezek. 39:3-6, 11-20) as they will be annihilated.
The destruction of the invaders will change the world situation, which apparently then will be much like it is now, with Russia and her allies opposed to the rest of the world. With Russia out of the way as a military power because of the destruction of her army, it will be possible for the ruler of the ten kingdoms to declare himself a world dictator, and apparently, there will be no power great enough to oppose him, and a world empire will be born overnight. At the beginning of his world empire the world will ask the question, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” (Rev. 13:4). And the answer is that no one will be strong enough to deny the ruler of the ten kingdoms the place of a dictatorship over the entire world.
When this takes place and the world empire suddenly emerges, the Middle East ruler will break his covenant with Israel and become her persecutor instead of her protector, and the final three-and-a-half years leading up to the second coming of Christ will be a time of trouble for Israel and for the entire world. The world ruler of the end time will not only claim political rule over all nations but will also claim to be God (Rev. 13:8).
According to Daniel 11:37, the world ruler “will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all.” According to Daniel 11:38, he will worship only the power to make war and gain victory, and he will be engaged in warfare toward the end of that last three-and-a-half years.
The Great Tribulation: Armageddon
As indicated in the breaking of the covenant with Israel, the future world ruler will bring on a terrible time of persecution by the government and judgment of God upon the world. This time of trouble is described graphically in Revelation 6-18. This period will include disasters from God as well as persecution of all those who will not recognize the world ruler as deity.
In his vision recorded in Revelation 6, John is introduced to a scroll with seven seals affixed to the side. As the scroll is unrolled, each seal is broken, signaling a great event on the earth. Some of these are great catastrophies. Seal one refers to the world empire that is brought out at the beginning of the three-and-a-half years. This is indicated by the bow without an arrow (Rev. 6:2), the formation of the world empire without a fight.
Seals two and three refer to warfare and starvation, which will affect many. The fourth seal reveals that one-fourth of the earth’s population will be destroyed, certainly a time of the wrath of God. The fifth seal recognizes that the world ruler will put to death those who do not recognize him as deity, and they are seen in heaven waiting for the time when the world ruler will be judged. In this period, according to the sixth seal, great disturbances will take place in the earth, with the sun darkened, the moon turning blood red, and stars of heaven falling to earth. There will also be a great earthquake, with every mountain and island removed from its place (Rev. 6:12-14).
Out of the seventh seal will come a second series of sevens called trumpets. As each trumpet is sounded, it signals another tremendous judgment on earth, usually extending to one-third of the earth’s area (Rev. 9:7-12), and one-third of the earth’s population will be destroyed (Rev. 9:15). Again, there will be great disturbances in nature, and eventually war.
Out of the seventh trumpet will come a third series of sevens called vials, or bowls, of the wrath of God. Each of these introduces another tremendous judgment on earth, usually extending to the entire earth. The first bowl judgment poured out will cause painful sores on people who have been worshiping the world ruler and the idol of him that was set up in the temple (Rev. 16:1-2). The second bowl pictures judgment on the sea so that every living creature in it dies (Rev. 16:3). The third bowl of the wrath of God will corrupt the springs of water, and they will become blood (Rev. 16:4). The fourth bowl will disturb the ordinary course of the sun, and people will be scorched because of the intense heat (Rev. 16:8). The fifth bowl results in the earth’s being plunged into darkness, because the heavens will be so disturbed that they do not give their normal light (Rev. 16:10). The sixth bowl will dry up the river Euphrates, which will make it possible for a great army from the East to approach the Holy Land and join in the final great war that is described taking place there. The final bowl of wrath will consist of a great earthquake that destroys the cities of the world, causing mountains and islands to disappear, and apparently the topography of the entire earth will be changed (Rev. 16:17-21).
During the three-and-a-half years of the Great Tribulation, God protected 144,000 Israelites, 12,000 in each tribe, as described in Revelation 7. They were able to go through the Great Tribulation unscathed and will be on Mount Zion at the end of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 14:1). By contrast, however, Revelation 7:9-17 pictures a great multitude in heaven consisting of those who have been martyred because they would not worship the world ruler and his claim for deity. By putting all these tremendous disasters of the end time together, we are introduced to a world scene where most of the world’s population has been destroyed prior to the second coming of Christ, and many of those who did turn to Christ in that day have become martyrs. In the Great Tribulation the final form of anti-God religion will consist of the atheistic worship of the world ruler and a denial of the true God. When Christ returns, He will judge the wickedness of the earth, rescue those still living in the earth who are saved and bring them into the millennial kingdom, and bring judgment of physical death on all the others (Matt. 24:30-31; 25:31-45).
1. According to Scripture, what events precede the Rapture?
2. By contrast, what events precede the second coming of Christ?
3. What are the four great world empires described by Daniel?
4. How does the fourth empire resemble the Roman Empire?
5. What is the evidence that there will be a future revival of the Roman Empire in the form of a ten-nation kingdom?
6. Who does the eleventh horn of Daniel 7 represent?
7. How does the prophecy of the eleventh horn support the idea that the ten-nation kingdom is still ahead?
8. What does Revelation 13 add concerning the fourth empire?
9. What do we learn of the future world ruler in Revelation 13?
10. How long will be the period of his world rule?
11. How does the period of his world rule relate to the seven years preceding the Second Coming?
12. What does Revelation 13 teach concerning the coming Great Tribulation?
13. What did Christ have to say about the Great Tribulation?
14. What will climax the Great Tribulation?
15. Describe the last seven years leading up to the Second Coming in relation to Israel’s covenant. How does the forming of the covenant indicate the beginning of the seven years?
16. When will this covenant with Israel take place in relation to the Rapture?
17. What three time periods are found in the period between the Rapture and the Second Coming? And what occurs in each?
18. What is meant by antichrist? To what extent does it refer to a definite person of the future?
19. What scriptural evidence is there that there will be a war between Russia and Israel in the end time?
20. When will the war with Israel probably occur in relation to the last seven years leading up to the Second Coming?
21. What is the outcome of the war in relation to Russia and her allies?
22. How does this change the world situation and the position of the ruler of the ten kingdoms?
23. What are some of the things that occur at the time the world ruler takes power?
24. How would you describe the future world ruler?
25. How would you define the Great Tribulation?
26. What do the first six seals on the scroll represent?
27. What emerges from the seventh seal when it is broken?
28. What characterizes the trumpet judgments and what is their extent?
29. What comes out of the seventh trumpet?
30. How do the judgments relating to the bowls of the wrath of God compare to the trumpet judgments?
31. In what respect are the trumpet judgments similar to the judgments of the bowls of the wrath of God? And in what respects are they different?
32. What is the significance of the sixth bowl of the wrath of God?
33. How does the sixth bowl relate to the final great world war?
34. What is the result of the seventh bowl being poured out on the earth?
35. How does the 144,000 of Israel reflect God’s keeping power even in the midst of the Great Tribulation? In contrast to those who are protected, what is predicted about many others, both Jews and Gentiles, who come to Christ in that period?
36. In general, describe the world scene at the time of the second coming of Christ.
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