Human Reactions during Times of Severe Distress

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

During the coming great tribulation, survival on earth will be threatened by unequalled natural disasters. Many people will be afflicted by fear and despair in reaction to these disasters. Some will become wicked and violent, while also taking refuge in liquor abuse in an effort to forget their serious problems. Others will be overcome by their sorrows and die of heart failure.

The Lord Jesus said the following about conditions on earth shortly before His Second Coming: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near... But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come upon you unexpectedly... Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:25-28,34,36).

The distress of the nations will be caused by great judgements that will be poured out upon a wicked humanity. Christ said: “And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). These judgements will only be poured out in their full intensity during the coming tribulation of seven years. It will be impossible to avert the disasters or to protect people from their impact. That is why the nations will become “perplexed” and the hearts of people will be “failing them from fear.” This time will also be characterised riots and wars: “You [will] hear of wars and commotions” (Luke 21:9).

It is obvious that before the tribulation period there will be an escalation of these conditions. Christians shouldn’t become discouraged because of the disasters as these signs point to their imminent redemption by way of the rapture (Luke 21:28,36).

The reaction of Christians

How do children of God react to difficult conditions? They look up and lift up their heads, while trusting Christ to intervene and change their fate for the better. In this end-time situation we pray specifically also, apart from provision in our daily needs, that the Lord will take us away from planet earth to escape the impending judgements.

Personal holiness is essential if we wish to appear in the Lord’s holy presence and be united with Him at the rapture. Everyone who has the hope in His coming “purifies himself, jus as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). We must lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us (Heb. 12:1). We must also watch against Satan’s attacks and temptations, and pray always. When we do that, our faith will be strengthened and we will be able to live victorious lives.

Many Christians neglect the command to be filled by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). They are people of little faith who easily become fearful (Mark 4:40), they often doubt if the Lord will care for them (Matt. 6:30), and are exposed to all sorts of deception because of their spiritual immaturity (Eph. 4:13-14). Those who are babes in Christ do not understand the deeper truths of the Word (Heb. 5:12-14) as they are still under the domination of the flesh which is their old, sinful nature (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Because of their poor spiritual understanding, the kingdom of God and the imminent return of Christ are not realities that feature strongly in their thoughts and expectations.

The thoughts and feelings of carnal believers are determined by their changing circumstances. For that reason, the cares of this life and the enjoyment of the world easily incline their hearts away from the Lord. We should watch and pray always, while completely trusting the Lord – then alone will we be spiritually strong and worthy to escape the coming tribulation period.

The reaction of unbelievers

The increase in disasters and judgements elicits completely different reactions from worldly-minded people. They do not have a spiritual anchor in their lives and easily become the victims of unbridled emotions such as fear, despair and aggression. When the pressure becomes too high they abandon everything, having no hope because they are without God in the world. Many of them turn to liquor and drugs in an effort to forget the awful reality of their circumstances.

Paul further elaborates on their typical reactions: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

We are already in the beginning of the time of trouble, which is leading up to tribulation period. It is evident that Mammon has millions of people firmly in his grip of avarice, thereby eliminating their awareness of the unseen kingdom of God. We cannot serve God and Mammon! We notice the disturbing phenomenon of more and more people who are lapsing in unholy and perverted lifestyles in which the love between men and women, and also the love of parents for their children, are rejected and despised. It is replaced by gay relationships, and also by the harassment and abuse of children. Other forms of violence are also proliferating.

Only evangelical Christians believe the Bible literally, and know that conditions on earth will further deteriorate. The Lord Jesus said that there will be a great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be (Matt. 24:21). He also confirms that the tribulation period will directly precede His Second Coming (Matt. 24:29-30). Few people will survive the great tribulation.

Worldly-minded people, as well as nominal believers who only have a form of godliness, deny the clear biblical statement on a coming tribulation under the reign of the Antichrist. During this time of trouble, the wrath of the day of the Lord will be poured out upon the wicked (cf. Isa. 13:9-13; 24:1-6; Rev. 6:12-17). Materialistic and godless people are building an earthly kingdom and refuse to acknowledge the fact that the things of this world will be destroyed. They will still be saying “Peace and safety!” when sudden destruction comes upon them (1 Thess. 5:3).

It is conspicuous that many of these morally and spiritually depraved people maintain a form of godliness. They belong to churches that do not denounce their sins and do not proclaim the reality of God’s judgements upon a wicked a world. These churches do exactly the same as Israel’s false prophets: “They have also healed the hurt of my people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). They proclaim a false peace and hold out false hopes to people.

False ideas of this nature are also proclaimed among other peoples and nations. It is quite pleasing to most people to hear that there is no tribulation in the offing but only times of prosperity, peace and political stability during the present dispensation before the Second Coming of Christ. Most churches go to great lengths to denounce and oppose the doctrines of the restoration of Israel to their own land, the rapture before the tribulation, the coming of a personal Antichrist, a tribulation period of seven years, and a literal battle of Armageddon, followed by Christ’s thousand-year reign of peace.

There are many congregations that offer Bible studies and sermons on Revelation with the specific aim of presenting it as a book of consolation. They allege that all the judgements that are described in Revelation were fulfilled during the first two centuries AD, and that we have since that time been living in the thousand-year reign of peace during which Satan is bound. They also say that Armageddon will only be a spiritual battle somewhere in the air; consequently, the church now awaits the King who will come to lead all “believers” into His eternal kingdom.

Since they deny the revelation of a personal Antichrist, they will easily fall victim to his charm and supernatural powers when he appears on the scene as a prince of peace and offers himself as the common messiah of all faiths to the world. His main objective will be to unite humanity in a new world order under his personal leadership. He will promise peace to all who conclude a covenant with him, as well as economic prosperity and a free flow of oil from the Middle East. His plans will be so sensational and universally acceptable that the millions of people who vanished without a trace in the rapture before his revelation, will soon be forgotten.

Those who remain behind will be greatly disillusioned when, 3½ years later, the Antichrist declares himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess. 2:4) and demands the worship of all people. People who refuse to worship him will be publicly executed (Rev. 13:15). Then, sudden destruction will come upon all who followed him in amazement with shouts of “Peace, peace!” (Rev. 13:3-4).

The only solution to this serious dilemma is to awake spiritually and walk in the light of Christ (Eph. 5:14). Only He can regenerate your heart through the Holy Spirit and make you a new creature. He also commanded that you must be filled with the Holy Spirit after conversion (Eph. 5:18) to be able to live victoriously.

We should watch and pray even more diligently during these last days to prevent the danger of falling asleep spiritually. Don’t expose yourself to the temptations and lawlessness of the world as that may lead to backsliding. Christ warned that the love of many of His disciples would grow cold during the last days when sin will be rampant (Matt. 24:12). He also warned against worldly entertainment and the cares of life (Luke 21:34).

During a time of impending judgements just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile of Israel, God said to Baruch: “Behold, what I have built I will break down, and what I have planted I will pluck up, that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh, says the Lord” (Jer. 45:4-5). We are in a similar but much more serious situation. The whole world is heading for a time of tribulation and divine judgements as there has never been. It is not the time now to pursue big earthly interests and to serve Mammon, but to prepare ourselves for a future in heaven, to lay up treasures there and to warn people against the wrath to come.

We are close to harvest-time when the Lord will finally separate the wheat and the tares. The wheat will be gathered into the heavenly barn and the tares will be burnt. The wrath of God is upon the wicked (John 3:18-19). They are heading for great distress if they do not settle their case with the Lord.

The prophetic word

How can Christians ensure that they do not, like worldly-minded people, entertain false hopes or live in fear and anxiety when things are going badly? They can avert situations like these by having an unshakable faith in the Lord Jesus and also by steadily walking in the light of the prophetic word. Peter says: “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as to a light that shines in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). True Christians shouldn’t be ignorant about the prophetic significance of world events. We should know the causes of an apostatising world, i.e. a worldwide rebellion against the Triune God as preparation for the appearing of the Antichrist. The widespread abandoning of Christian morality accounts for the unprecedented increase in sin and wickedness. These conditions will not improve but deteriorate further.

If we focus on the spiritual deception and moral depravation around us, or participate in wicked and permissive lifestyles, our love for the Lord Jesus will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). Our disposition should be in the opposite direction. Christ referred to a process of spiritual and moral polarisation in the end-time when He said: “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Rev. 22:11). We should never be accomplices of this depraved world, but rather dissociate ourselves from it.

It is not necessary to be pulled down by the world and its sinful ways because “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5:20). There is always power to overcome any adversity: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1) and experience how He makes us more than conquerors in a dark and sinful world. Keep your eyes fixed on Him who is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).

We now walk in faith as we are only spiritually aware of the presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. But the time is coming when we shall see Him face tot face. That will be during the rapture, and that is the reason why Paul refers to this wonderful event as “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). That is the good news in an otherwise dark scenario of end-time prophecies. Do you have the blessed hope that the Lord Jesus will come again to receive us to Himself (John 14:2-3), or are you among those who entertain dark thoughts because they first expect the coming of the Antichrist? A negative future expectation, as well as the cares of life, will certainly weigh your heart down.

Strengthen your relationship of faith with the Lord Jesus by trusting Him to build you up in your most holy faith (Jude 1:20). Be diligent to anchor your steps in His Word, then you will “be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Be vigilant and see to it that you don’t become part of an apostatising Christianity during this time of severe attacks and undermining by the enemy of our souls. Rather be among those who stand immovable on the Rock, Jesus Christ, from where we can support, encourage and lend a helping hand to those in need. Christians who have gone astray must be motivated to return to the paths of righteousness on which they should be firmly anchored to the rock of our salvation.