If you're a reader of the Bible and a follower of Christ, it's difficult to watch the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, not to mention the nuclear catastrophe that has followed (as well as the Asian tsunami and Haiti's earthquake) and not think of what Jesus said in Matthew 24 when describing the state of affairs prior to His return,
"4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows."
So we see that earthquakes are not the only sign of the beginning of sorrows. We also have wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences (diseases that kill). But what is this "beginning of sorrows"? Most studiers of the Word would say that the time of "sorrows" refers to the tribulation period described in revelation which is a seven year span which leads up to Jesus' return and 1,000 year reign on the earth.
Some say, and I agree, that we are in the birth pangs of this tribulation period even now, that the commencement of the seven years of tribulation could begin at any moment.
Many also believe, and I do as well, that the sign that the tribulation has begun will be the war against Israel described in Ezekiel 38.
Ezekiel's vision describes Gog and Magog (most believe this to be Russia) along with Persia (Iran) and other north african/middle eastern nations coming against Israel in war. But when they do God defends Israel and 5 out 6 of the soldiers of the invading armies die. Ezekiel also tells us that it will take 7 months to bury all their dead bodies, as well as 7 years to clean up the aftermath.
This 7 year cleanup period is what leads many, including me, to believe that this war begins the tribulation because of the specific seven year period it takes to clean up the mess. Others believe this is the war to end all wars, known as Armageddon, when all the nations of the world come against Israel. But this can't be, because Ezekiel's vision includes only a handful of nations coming against Israel, while the battle at Megiddo (Armageddon) includes ALL nations.
So, when you see the Ezekiel 38 war begin to come about, know that we are entering the tribulation period where many of the prophecies from Daniel, Matthew 24, and Revelation will come to pass. It will be a terrible time of sorrow on the earth, but the time will serve a great purpose which I will address momentarily.
But first I would like to make mention of the fact that some Christians say that at the beginning of the tribulation, the Church will be "raptured" out of here, not having to endure any of this time of sorrows.
Others say we will be here for half of the tribulation because the halfway point (three and a half years in) marks the time when the Anti-Christ becomes the world ruler and imposes an economic system when no one will be able to buy or sell without his mark. (We have the technology and automation right now to do this. All you need is your mark, or chip, or whatever it might be, on your right hand on your forehead.)
But I believe, as many do, that we Christians will be here for the entirety of the tribulation, for Revelation describes that at the halfway point the anti-Christ will make war against the Saints and will overcome many, while others of us will be protected in the wilderness for the final three and half years. (Some believe the Saints described in Revelation are simply those lukewarm Believers who were "left behind", but not one molecule of me believes that explanation. I fully believe that ALL of us will be here.)
The truth is that we Christians, as a people, have so severely failed to serve God correctly that only a tiny percentage of us would be found worthy of the rapture anyhow. We have much purifying to do as a people, and to my earlier point about the purpose of tribulation, it is when tribulation is in the earth that people finally take stock and realize the need for change.
As it is written in the book of Isaiah,
"...when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isaiah 26:9).
Why do people learn righteousness during times of tribulation? Because through tribulation we are shown our own mortality, that we are not invincible, that we have to answer for our lives. We come face-to-face with the idea of an afterlife, of facing God, of standing before Him and having our lives reviewed and judged.
No one wants to stand before God and be found wanting, or guilty. But if everything in your life while you live in sin is all "hunky-dory" and you don't take the time to think about your mortality, you won't be concerned with facing Him, about the way you are living NOW, even though the notion you should be MOST concerned about is your eternity, where you will be, what you will do, after this life.
So during tribulation when you see life all around you change, the world in tumult, death very prevalent, the fear of the Lord comes upon you and you, hopefully, begin to determine to get things right with Him.
Let's face it, tribulation is punishment, and the point of punishment is to wake a person up, to make the person reconsider the wrong he has done and to make a change.
People are put in prison every day for wrong doing, and it is there they are given the time to consider their wrong doing. With their creature comforts and freedom removed they have no choice but to consider their behavior.
Tribulation in the earth serves that same purpose. For many, the care-free "I don't care about the future" life finally takes a back set to the sobering reality that life as we know it is finite, not permanent, that there is an end to what we know on this earth.
Some of you may not believe we are nearing the end of this age and coming closer to the Lord's return. I hear a lot Christians say that people throughout history thought his return was imminent.
Well, nowhere in history have so many of the prophecies of the Bible come to meet at one moment in time when all of it seems possible. The groups, like Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses who proclaimed Jesus would return in the 1800s to their own embarrassment did not recognize that Ezekiel 37 had to be fulfilled first, the chapter that predicts Israel's resurrection as a nation. But since 1949 this has been the case. And many other prophecies have come about such as Daniel's vision of an increase in knowledge and many people going "to and fro".
Even if the tribulation is not imminent (though I don't see how), still take this time when so much is going on in the world to take stock of your relationship with God.
Are you keeping His Word? Do you even know His Word? Do you spend time talking with Him? Do you know Him personally? The answers to these question determine if you are living a life of true eternal purpose. We were put on this earth, ultimately, to have relationship with God (first) and each other (second). Are you paying any attention to the first matter?
I pray with all my heart that the events happening worldwide, where many people are coming to a quick collision with their own mortality, will lead each one of us to consider our own mortalities, to consider our REAL purpose here on earth, and to have the courage to seek God as to what that purpose is as well as for the help to complete it. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.