Basic Principles of Understanding the Events Before the Tribulation Period
Most Christians are aware of the events that have been prophesied in the book of Revelations in the Bible. They are aware for the most part that a seven year period, called the tribulation period, will occur on the Earth when extraordinary natural events will cause devastation to an extent never witnessed before. There will be constant war between world powers. Control of the world political landscape will change like hands in a poker game. It will be a time of unrivaled moral decadence and decay. Many theologians and students of biblical prophecy have done an exhaustive analysis of this period described in the book of Revelations, the most notable in the last 10 years would be Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye, the authors of the Left Behind series. What these scholars have overlooked in their analysis of the scriptures is that the Bible describes events that occur just prior to the tribulation period. The purpose of this book is to establish a timeline of these events that occur prior to the tribulation period, a timeline of events that have escaped the notice of the experts.
You ought to notice one very specific thing about the timeline I will propose: it doesn't contain a prediction about the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture of the Church is God's plan to remove those that believe in Jesus Christ from the Earth prior to the tribulation. The New Testament is very clear that no one knows the timing of the Rapture. However Jesus mentions in the Gospels that there will be definite signs of when “the latter days” will occur (“latter days” has long been thought to be a code phrase for the tribulation period). Therefore I believe scripturally I shouldn't be able to speculate intelligently about the timing of the Rapture of the Church, but I do believe there is a ton of evidence for the other events that occur during the time prior and during the tribulation period.
The book of Daniel is the key to understanding the events that happen prior to the tribulation. So if one wants to understand the book of Daniel one must understand the history of the life of Daniel. When Daniel is a teenager he is removed from Israel and sent to Babylon with many of the other bright young men that Nebuchadnezzar takes as part of his conquest of the region. This action occurs very near the beginning of what is called the Babylonian Conquest in the Old Testament. The Babylonians rule for the next 49 years until the Persian Empire rises and the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, conquers the last Babylonian ruler mentioned in the book of Daniel, Belshazzar. Cyrus makes an announcement shortly thereafter that the Israelites may return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. Many of the Israelites returned to Israel, however many remained in Assyria and Babylon. Twenty one years later, the Macedonian ruler, Alexander the Great, conquers the Persian Empire (conventional historians claim that the Persians ruled for over 200 years; I believe they only ruled 21 years and I provide evidence of this in my book The Fourth Day: Why the Bible is Historically Accurate). Alexander dies shortly after this conquest and the Macedonian Empire is divided among his generals. Eventually the Roman Empire becomes the next great power in the region displacing the Macedonians (Macedonia and Greece are used interchangeably by historians as references to the same empire).
The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar's Statue
The circumstances of the historical events that surround the life of Daniel become important during a particular dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. One of the first tests of faith in the life of Daniel is a situation in which King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that disturbs him greatly yet he can't remember the details of the dreams when he awakens. Therefore he orders the wise men of his kingdom to analyze his dream but they must also tell him the details of the dream; if they can't he is going to have all of them executed. Since Daniel is part of the group of wise men he seeks God in prayer to reveal the mystery of the King's Dream (Daniel 2:28-45):
“But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart. Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation is sure.”
The first thing to note here is that Daniel says that this vision is a vision of the events of “the last days”, therefore this is not a vision of the events of right after the death of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet as one looks at this vision it is uncanny how similar it is in describing the events soon after Nebuchadnezzar's life. I believe the reason this is so is because the events that lead up to the tribulation period will closely track with the historic events that occurred from the Babylonian Conquest until Alexander the Great. Let's analyze this passage to identify the similarities.
Daniel says that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, represents the golden head of the statue and the first kingdom. This kingdom is a kingdom over other kingdoms, a world superpower. I believe the gold represents a kingdom that is unmatched in its prosperity. Daniel then mentions that the second kingdom is a kingdom of silver and comes after Nebuchadnezzar. The silver indicates it is a kingdom of great wealth but not as wealthy as the first kingdom. Since this part of the statue represents the arms and chest, it is a divided kingdom like the arms are divided from one another; the divided kingdom of the Medes and the Persians. The third kingdom of bronze that came after the Medes and the Persians, the kingdom of the belly and the thighs represents a kingdom that is unified when it begins but then is divided in the same way that the belly is one part of the body and the thighs represents two parts. The “bronze” represents a kingdom that is militarily strong but not necessarily economically strong since bronze was used for weapons in the Bible but was not as valuable as silver or gold. It is apparent that Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire represented the kingdom of bronze. Alexander had a very strong military and he was a very strong unifying presence for his new kingdom. However after his death the kingdom became divided and was ruled by his three generals. The fourth kingdom, the kingdom of the iron legs that became the iron and clay feet and toes, is a kingdom that is much more militarily strong than the bronze kingdom in the same way that iron is much more strong than bronze. Yet it is as brittle as iron since it does break and the broken pieces are joined together with clay but the iron/clay feet represent a weak union. This kingdom represents the Roman Empire that came after the Greek Empire known for its military strength. The Roman Empire was also divided (the two iron legs represents a kingdom that had two parts) in the sense that it had two capitals Rome and Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). The Roman Empire represented a kingdom with two very diverse cultures, the European culture and the Middle Eastern culture.
If the events that occur before and during the tribulation parallel the description above then we would expect the first world superpower of this era to be a economic powerhouse and associated with Babylon. The second world power of this era would be very economically powerful yet not as strong as the first and would be associated with the Medes and the Persians. The third world power would be militarily strong and rule the world yet not as economically strong as the first two kingdoms and it would be associated with Greece. The fourth kingdom will be exceedingly strong militarily yet be broken in pieces and form an unsteady alliance of countries and be associated with the two capitals of the Roman Empire, Rome and Constantinople. We will use this information as a foundation to understand Daniel's vision of the four beasts.
Daniel's Vision of the Four Beasts
Later in his book, Daniel describes a vision he has that describes four beasts. Many theologians believe these beasts are kingdoms that arise in the last days that are analogous to the four empires described in Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Daniel 7:1-8):
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
There are a few things to keep in mind while analyzing these beasts. First, all these beasts represent a partnership between multiple nations. Theologians have taken this approach with all the beasts except the first beast and I will demonstrate in what manner it is a symbol of two separate nations. Secondly, these beasts also represent the nations mentioned in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue. For instance, the lion with the eagle's wings must be associated with the golden head of Nebuchadnezzar's statue; the bear with the 3 ribs in its mouth must be associated with the silver chest and arms of Nebuchadnezzar's statue, etc. Thirdly, I believe the animals used to describe individual beasts describe the relative strength of the beasts. The lion is stronger than the bear; the bear is stronger than the leopard; the fourth beast is described as being “terrible” so I believe it is stronger than them all. Finally, I believe these animals can be easily identified with their respective countries in the same way that the eagle is identified with the United States.
The First Beast: The Lion with Eagle's Wings
The first beast, the lion with eagle's wings, is probably the most enigmatic of all the beasts described. Most conservative theologians believe that the lion with eagle's wings represented Babylon, modern day Iraq, by comparing Babylon with the head of gold mentioned in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Daniel as much as stated that Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, Babylon, represented the head of gold. Archaeologists have found several statues in ancient Babylon during the period of Nebuchadnezzar's reign of lions with eagle's wings, so it would appear this would be a relatively sound interpretation. I think there is something of significance missing. All of the other beasts are symbolic of many nations: the bear with the three ribs in its mouth is representative of four nations, the leopard with four heads is representative of (at least) four nations and beast with ten horns is representative of (at least) ten nations. Is it possible that the lion with eagle's wings refers to multiple nations?
If you think of the first beast as two animals, a lion and an eagle, it becomes easier to visualize the interpretation of Daniel's vision regarding the first beast. Consider three prophecies in the scriptures that involve eagles: 1) the riddle of the two eagles, 2) two eagle wings that transport the Jews to a safe refuge during the tribulation period and 3) the description of Nebuchadnezzar being like an eagle during his 7 year period of insanity.
The Riddle of the Two Eagles
The riddle of the two eagles is described in Ezekiel 17:2-8:
“Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;
And say, thus saith the Lord God; a great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had diverse colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar:
He cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick; he set it in a city of merchants.
He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree.
And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches and shot forth sprigs.
There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, this vine did bend her roots toward him, and shot forth her branches toward him, that he might water it by the furrows of her plantation.
It was planted in a good soil by great waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine.”
I believe this passage describes two nations that are very similar in their relationship to Israel. The first eagle is “a great eagle with great wings” so it is a powerful nation. It is “full of feathers” so it has many people. It is “longwinged” so it is located far away from Israel. It has “diverse colours” so it is nation of people of different colored skins (black, yellow, white, red, etc.). The eagle comes to Lebanon and takes a sprig from the highest branch of the cedar: the cedar of Lebanon is used in many places in the Old Testament to represent the people of Israel (Lebanon was actually part of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament). Therefore the first eagle carries a small group from nation of Israel and transplants them in the far removed country of the first eagle. They are transplanted in a “land of traffick”, a nation with a strong economy and are set in a “city of merchants”, a city that is associated with trade. If you pull all these descriptions together of the first eagle it appears this parable is describing the United States and its relationship to Israel prior to the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948. The United States like the first eagle, is a large nation far removed from Israel that is an economic power with a “melting pot” of different colored peoples. Prior to and after 1948 many Jews settled in the United States and more specifically New York City, New York which can be described as one of the world's largest centers of trade. The phrase “he took also the seed of the land, and planted in a fruitful field” refers to the United States involvement in the establishment of the Jewish people as a nation in Israel in 1948. The phrase “it became a vine of low stature” indicates that Israel, at least while the United States is still powerful, is a nation of lowly stature.
Then along comes the second eagle. It is a “great eagle with great feathers”; it is a powerful nation. Israel relies on this nation in the same way that Israel relies on the United States now. Israel becomes a goodly vine, a very prosperous nation during this period because of the trade it has with the second eagle. This second eagle is Babylon, the nation of the antichrist during the tribulation, the “little horn” and also as I described in chapter 1 of this book, the Kurds of northern Iraq.
I believe the lion with eagle's wings describes two nations, the United States and the Kurds of northern Iraq.
The Two Eagles Wings
As I mentioned in chapter one of this book I proposed that the “conspicuous horn” on the goat that is broken represents the end of the United States position as the world's lone superpower, sometime in the future. Also remember from chapter one of this book that the “conspicuous horn” is referred to as the first king. I propose that this “first king” refers to the first beast, the lion with the eagle's wings. Therefore the eagle's wings are cut off of the lion; this is a picture of when the United States is no longer the world's lone superpower . These two eagle's wings occur in another instance in the scriptures (Revelations 12:14):
“And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
I believe this scripture is referring to the time three and a half years into the tribulation when the Jewish population from the United States (represented by the two eagle's wings) will return to Israel at a time when the United States is no longer the world's lone superpower.
Nebuchadnezzar Appears as an Eagle
Daniel the prophet records the events that lead to Nebuchadnezzar's seven year period of insanity. Nebuchadnezzar demonstrates a lack of humility before God for his kingdom so God punishes Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar apparently has the mind of an animal for seven years and ironically has the following symptoms (Daniel 4:32-33):
“And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.”
This passage is amazingly similar to the description of the lion with eagle's wings in that the lion is clipped of its wings and then rises to act like a man. Nebuchadnezzar acts like an animal, has some features of an eagle, for a period of seven years and then regains his reason so that he can act like a man again. I believe the account of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity has a prophetic element to it. I believe that the United States fulfills its role as the first eagle and then is broken as a world leader. Then for a period of seven years, like Nebuchadnezzar, neither the United States nor the Kurds of Iraq are powerful nations. Three and half years into the tribulation the antichrist and the Kurds rise as the world superpower, seven years after the United States is devastated.
What the Bible Doesn't Say
The Bible doesn't always reveal everything God knows and in the case of the first beast this also appears to be true. There seems to be something missing in this interpretation of the vision of the first beast. How are the United States and the Kurds of northern Iraq related to one another? Recent events in the “war on terror” in Iraq may shed some light on this. When the U.S. soldiers entered northern Iraq and liberated the Kurds from the Saddam's reign of terror, one group among the Kurds was particularly glad to see them, the Yezedi. The Yezedi are one of the religious groups among the Kurd. They were glad to see the U.S. troops because their religious writings prophesy the coming of holy people with red faces and blue eyes that would free them (The New Republic online, “The Devil's Advocates, 11/06/06, www.tnr.com). Another web article said that many of them believed that a blue-eyed man will come from the West to free them from oppression (World Media Watch, “The Lost Faith”, 12/28/05). Is it possible that the antichrist comes from America and sets up his future kingdom through this obscure religion?
The Yezidi are also unique for several other reasons. The most outstanding feature of their religion is that they worship Satan, the Devil. They believe that rather than being punished by God in the garden of Eden that the serpent, Satan, was actually being rewarded. They worship Satan, and refer to him as Malak Taus, a term that literally means Peacock Angel. The Yezidi have taken great offense when their Muslim countrymen end their prayers by saying such things as “God protect us from the Devil.” What better place would there be for the future antichrist to establish as home base than a sect of devil worshipers?