The time of trouble: events after probation closes
In study: ‘The end of human probation’ we see that when the wickedness of man has become so great that the Holy Spirit can no longer reach the wicked (they have rejected God’s final pleading and warning) God will bring an end to human probation.
At that momentous point in human history the redeemed are sealed irrevocably with the seal of God, and the unrepentant wicked are sealed irrevocably with the mark of the beast (see study: 'The mark of the beast and the Seal of God').
From the close of probation mercy no longer pleads for the unrepentant, and Satan is allowed to have full control over them. The world then enters a (brief) period of unprecedented trouble such as the world has never seen. This is called ‘the time of trouble’.
2. The time of trouble such as never was
Such a great time of trouble can occur only when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains the wicked and Satan has full sway over them.
2.1 The time of trouble foretold
Christ taught of this time:
Mt 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. See also Mk 13:19
The time of trouble was foretold by Daniel. In study: ‘The end of human probation’,2 we see the antichrist beast (the Papacy) troubled by the tidings that God’s people are sealed with the Seal of God - he becomes enraged, intending to destroy many (Da 11:44).
2.2 The redeemed in the time of trouble
During this time of trouble God’s faithful people will have to live in a time in which Christ no longer intercedes for sinners - He will have ceased his intercessory work in the Heavenly Sanctuary.
However, the redeemed are a special people: they have the final Seal of God and are redeemed from the world - they will not be left to perish.
The redeemed will not be forgotten or forsaken
Though Christ will no longer be present with the wicked in the time of unprecedented trouble, He will be present with the redeemed who are alive through that time:
Mt 28:20 ... lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
He 13:5 … for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee
God has promised never to forget His people:
Isa 49:15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. See also De 31:6; Jos 1:5; 1Ch 28:20
The redeemed who are alive throughout the time of trouble are called the 144,000.
2.3 The 144,000
Rev 7:3,4 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
Rev 14:1-5 And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
The 144,000 identified
The 144,000 are those redeemed who are living in the time trouble. They are sealed with the Seal of God, having rejected the mark of the beast (Re 15:2). They are thus a special people amongst the redeemed, for the Seal of God is applied only when the end-time decision is made plain to all, and at no other time in history.
The 144,000, although enduring immense trials, cannot be deceived by Satan - they are sealed with the irrevocable Seal of God:
Rev 22:11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
A representative number
The number (144,000) must be representative rather than literal, because the whole human race who are alive in the end time will have equal opportunity to make their decision for truth - thus the exact number is not made up until the final Seal of God / mark of the beast test has been applied.
Furthermore, Re 7:4 (above) tells us that the 144000 are from the twelve tribes of Israel, who represent all the nations of the Earth - 1200 is too round a figure to be literal.
A special reward
The 144,000 will remain faithful under circumstances which none before will have ever endured. Thus they receive a special reward: to remain always in the presence of Christ:
Rev 14:4 These [the 144,000] are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The 144,00 are also addressed in study: ‘The time of rejoicing’,2.1.
2.4 The seven last plagues (Re 15:1,5-7;16:1-21)
The timing of the plagues
The seven last plagues occur after probation closes. This is confirmed by the first of the seven last plagues (sores, Re 16:2) falling on those who have the mark of the beast, which is applied irrevocably only when probation closes.
By its extreme wickedness after probation closes, the world will bring upon itself God’s wrath (the plagues) 'without mixture' (Strong's G194, undiluted - see Re 14:9,10), i.e. untempered with mercy (see study: ‘The three angels’ messages’, 2.3).
Some of the plagues have a parallel in the plagues on Egypt at the time of Moses, which were judgments on Egypt because of their persecution of God’s people: boils (sores) and waters turned to blood. However other last plagues are specific to their time.
The seven last plagues are listed in Revelation chapter 16 - plagues 1 to 6 are as follows:
1 - sores; 2 - sea turned to blood; 3 - rivers and fountains turned to blood;
4 - sun scorches with great heat; 5 - darkness upon the seat of the beast;
6 - Euphrates dried up - Armageddon. NB. Revelation is a prophetic book of symbols. Therefore the drying up of the Euphrates cannot be literal.
Anciently, Babylon was defeated by the diverting and drying of the river Euphrates. Spiritual Babylon will be defeated by the symbolic drying of the Euphrates - it refers to the opening of the way for the kings of the east, i.e. Christ and His retinue (the angel of the Lord ascended from the east, Re 7:2) - indeed, for the wicked, the coming of Christ will be as a destroying plague.
The 7th plague is addressed in section 3.
After the 6th plague, the wickedness of the world climaxes in the battle of Armageddon (Re 16:16). Armageddon (Strong's G717, a symbolic name) takes place after human probation has closed, when Satan is permitted full control of the wicked. It is Satan's final attempt to overthrow Christ and His people.
Satan cannot win the battle because at that time the people of God are sealed irrevocably in Christ, and the wicked are sealed irrevocably for destruction. In Re 16:14 the battle is called ‘the great day of Almighty God (Strong's G3841, the all ruling God)'. Thus God's victory is decisive and conclusive - and is seen in the 7th and final plague: the second coming of Christ, addressed in section 3.
The plagues are unleashed at a time of unrestrained wickedness. The environmental, moral, and spiritual pollution which today are destroying the Earth will accelerate and precipitate the close of probation.
The wicked are held in check by the Holy Spirit until probation closes, at which point all restraint is removed. Wickedness will then increase immeasurably until God will have to intervene and destroy the wicked before they destroy the Earth completely.
3. God will destroy them that destroy the Earth
Re 11:18 And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.
Mat 24:21,22 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
4 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. See also Mk 13:20.
God intervenes: the 7th plague
Plague 7- a great voice from heaven declaring ‘it is done’ (Re 16:17), followed by voices, thunderings and earthquakes, and Babylon receiving judgement.
‘It is done’ signifies that the Sealed of God are made up, and the time has come for the Second Advent of Christ, which brings destruction to the wicked, but deliverance to God’s people.
The description of the 7th plague is paralleled in 1Th 4:16, which tells of a very visible second coming (see study: ‘The Second Advent of Christ’).
The Egyptian plagues ended with the deliverance of God’s people when God intervened with a judgement that could not be resisted (the slaying of the firstborn).
God’s intervention in the time of trouble takes the form of an infinitely greater event: the second advent of Christ, which delivers God’s redeemed for all eternity.
We live in extremely troubled times now, but Christ has told us that when we see these things come to pass we must look up because our salvation is drawing near (Lk 21:28).
However, the troubles we experience now bear little comparison with the time of trouble after probation closes.
That time of trouble will be very severe, but the redeemed (the 144,000) will know that it heralds the return of Christ. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit will not leave them without hope, enabling them to endure the severe trial.
Moreover, the redeemed in the time of trouble are sealed with the irrevocable Seal of God, and thus Satan is powerless against them - their salvation is assured.