Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When tragedy strikes, we’re left with many questions. One of the biggest is probably, “Where was God in all of this?” I certainly know that when major tragedies hit, the atheists are very quick to quip, “Where’s your God now?” It can be hard to place God when there is something that seems horribly terrible is going on in the world. However, Scripture has an answer already in place. During Jesus’ days on earth, some tragic events took place, and the people were very curious as to how he’d respond to them. We read,
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-5).
Tragedies should not be seen as divine punishment, but rather a reminder that death is in the world and it will come and take us all away at some point. But more importantly, look where Jesus puts his focus. He thinks that we should care more about where we’re going than what’s happening today. Think of tragedy as a warning shot of sorts to get us back into a repentant frame of mind.
During the tribulation, there will be some very terrible events taking place on the earth. 1/3rd of the earth will be burned,
Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up (Revelation 8:6-7).
1/3rd of the sea will be ruined,
The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (Revelation 8:8-9).
1/3rd of the water will become undrinkable,
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water- the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter (Revelation 8:10-11).
1/3rd of the sky will be darkened,
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night (Revelation 8:12).
And 1/3rd of the people will be killed outright,
The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angel s who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind (Revelation 9:13-15).
Now a lot of questions can come from reading these passages. Questions like, “When is this going to happen?” “What is this Wormwood, and what is the significance in its name?” “Will it be a literal third of the moon being blocked out, or will be a sky-wide 1/3rd blocking?” Or, “What does all this symbolism mean for us?” But for me, I couldn’t shake the question, “Why is it always one-third?” And so I posed this to the Holy Spirit and his answer was the Luke passage we read in the introduction. God takes out 1/3rd at a time so that the other 2/3rds of people have a chance to repent. In this way, he’s pruning out the population while leaving the door open to the people whose eyes are being opened by what is going on around them.
This concept of God using the tribulation in order to give a few more chances to the already doomed humanity is backed up several places in the Book of Revelation. We can find that the people who are left after the sixth angel had run his course aren’t believers at all (yes, yes, rapture and all), nor are they recent converts,
The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood- idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts (Revelation 9:20-21).
Hmmm, if God’s plan was second chances, it doesn’t seem to be working out very well, considering that the people don’t want to change. Ah, but this is still quite early in the tribulation. Let’s fast forward a little. After a few more proofs, including some prophets coming, dying, and coming back again (in what can be a very confusing chapter), we find the result of God’s works,
Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies looked on.
At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven (Revelation 11:12-13).
Now the two prophets had died, and were resurrected, and as we read they proceeded to ascend before the people into heaven. Right after this happened, seven thousand more people died, and those who were left over quickly repented. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that quite a few of the seven thousand who died in the earthquake had probably already repented after seeing the ascension. Why does this seem to be the case? Once again we find that the people who survived were the nonbelievers (who then proceeded to repent). We often associate bodily death (especially when it is painful, early, or tragic) as some sort of divine punishment. However God’s view on death is quite different. Check out what the Bible has to say on the matter,
The righteous perish,
And no one ponders it in his heart;
Devout men are taken away,
And no one understands
That the righteous are taken away
To be spared from evil (Isaiah 57:1).
Think of it this way, if a person gets him or herself caught in the tribulation and repents; which is the better outcome for that person? Would it be better for them to continue to live in the world as it is being torn apart by God, or would it be better just to bring said person into heaven as fast as possible? The times of tribulation aren’t meant to be a slow burn punishment for those who didn’t repent before the rapture. Rather, the tribulation is a series of warning shots and harvests for the Lord. Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). I think a lot of us when we read the book of Revelation assume that God suddenly switches into wrath mode. However, we have to remember that the Lord doesn’t change, if he is slow in our destruction today, then it certainly makes sense that he’d extend out the final days in order that anyone who might repent is saved and comes into the Kingdom of God. In this way we find that even during the very last days, the doors to heaven will still be open.
However, there will be a day when there will be no more warning shots fired and the gates of heaven will close for good. We’re reminded of this in Revelation 10:5-7,
Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”
What all this means exactly, I’m not sure. But after this announcement in heaven, more people are saved on earth, so it seems that even after the last call, God grabs a few more. The point is this, there is an end, and in that end if you’re not with Christ, then you will spend eternity in hell, separated from anything good. Do not tarry though in your repentance and salvation. Sure, maybe when tragedy strikes, God targets those who’s eternal life is already secure- but you might be standing next to that person when it happens and not be so lucky. Not everyone gets a ton of chances, that’s all up to divine providence. Rather today, take heed as to what has happened in your lifetime, and what is already set to happen in the future. Don’t delay, God may spare the ignorant until they get a chance to accept his son, but you have that chance today. Accept Jesus Christ and his atoning death on a cross for your sins. Believe in him, and trust in him to do the work for your salvation. Submit yourself to God now while you still have a chance.
I know this is an awful lot to take in at one time. However, if you’d like to give yourself to Christ (even if you don’t fully understand it yet), then pray the following prayer out loud and sincerely believe the words in your heart. Scripture tells us, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:10). Ready? Alright, pray with me:
Dear Lord Jesus,
I don’t really understand all that you’ve laid before me.
But I do realize that my chance is now,
And I don’t want to waste that chance.
Forgive me Lord for ignoring you and denying your existence,
Forgive me for living for myself,
Forgive me for living in a way you don’t approve of.
Forgive me Lord and save me,
Help me to understand your Word,
And help me to get to know you.
Come into my life,
Lead me, guide me, save me.
I am yours, Lord Jesus, forevermore.
In your name I pray,