The Tribulation is referred to by Christians as the last 7 years before Jesus returns to rule Earth. During this time period the Antichrist will come to power, and there will be many natural (and unnatural) disasters, wars, famines, etc. I believe this time is coming very quickly - we can already see some previews in the natural disasters the world has experienced the last few years. But many people do not seem to be worried. Or they expect that they will be one of the lucky few who survive - just like in the movies. But is this a realistic expectation? What are the actual chances of surviving the Tribulation? Here I will attempt to guess at that number, and see what it means for you personally.
Number of Deaths per Judgement
Most of the disasters which happen during the Tribulation are listed in the book of Revelation. I have already gone into more detail on each disaster in my article here, so for reference you may wish to read that article first. Below I will list each judgement and list how many the Bible says die from it. Then we'll see what percent of the earth's population is left over. I will assume a world population of 7 billion people at the starting point.
- The Antichrist appears (Revelation 6:1-2): 0 deaths
- Worldwide war. (Revelation 6:3-4): unknown
- Economic collapse. (Revelation 6:5-6): unknown
- Death (famine, disease, crime, animal attacks). (Revelation 6:7-8): 1/4 of the world's population = 1.75 billion deaths
- Martyrs cry out. (usually interpreted as Antichrist killing Christians) (Revelation 6:9-11): unknown
- Earthquake which moves mountains and islands, multiple meteor strikes. (Revelation 6:12-14): unknown
- Silence in heaven. (Revelation 8:1-5): 0 deaths
- 1/3 of earth, trees, and plants burned. (Revelation 8:7): unknown
- Asteroid impact in ocean - kills 1/3 of sea life and poisons 1/3 of ocean. (Revelation 8:8): unknown
- Asteroid impact which poisons 1/3 of fresh water. (Revelation 8:10-11): "Many people died because the water was so bitter" (unknown)
- Reduction of sun, moon, and starlight by 1/3. (Revelation 8:12): 0 deaths
- Release of supernatural "locusts" (probably demons) which torment people for 5 months. (Revelation 9:1-11): 0 deaths
- Deaths of people caused by 200 million war horses and fire, smoke, and sulfur: possibly nuclear war. (Revelation 9:13-19): 1/3 of remaining world's population = 1.75 billion deaths
- Earthquake, hail, lightning, thunder. (Revelation 11:19): unknown
- Painful sores for people with Mark of the Beast. (Revelation 16:1-2): 0 deaths
- All sea life dies, all oceans become like blood. (Revelation 16:3): unknown
- All rivers and streams become like blood. (Revelation 16:4): unknown
- Sun intensifies and scorches people. (Revelation 16:8): 0 deaths
- Darkness on Antichrist's kingdom, painful sores on people. (Revelation 16:10): 0 deaths
- River Euphrates dries up, battle of Armageddon. (Revelation 16:12-16): unknown
- Worst earthquake of all history, 100 pound hailstones. (Revelation 16:17-21): unknown
Out of all these judgements, the Bible only mentions 1/4 of the world's population dying in Seal #4, and 1/3 of the remaining world population dies in Trumpet #6. Put together, these two judgements alone kill 3.5 billion people (50% of today's world population). This is equivalent to the entire countries of China, India, and the United States , plus still 1 billion other people. Already, the chances of surviving these two judgements is less than 50%.
Estimates for Various Disasters
This 3.5 billion calculated above does not count the many other deaths which are not given numerical values. I will place some estimates here for the judgements where the number of deaths are not listed.
The wars in Seal #2 may possibly include the Gog-Magog war which says it will take Israel 7 months to bury all of the dead foreign soldiers (Ezekiel 29:12). The Battle of Armageddon will be the largest in history and will involve European as well as Asian forces. I would guess probably at least a few million solders, and they basically all get wiped out when Jesus returns with his saints and angels (Revelation 19:21). So if you manage to avoid being drafted during these wars, maybe you have a better chance at surviving these battles.
Many of the judgments will make it hard to find food and water. The destruction of sea life in Trumpet #2 and Bowl #2, freshwater life in Trumpet #3 and Bowl #3 will make it impossible to eat seafood, and the turning of sea and lake water to blood will probably make it hard or impossible to irrigate crops. I suspect they may invent a form of distillation which will make some water drinkable since people cannot survive more than 3 days without water, and life goes on for at least a few years under these conditions. However, it will probably be expensive and the poorest people will probably die from starvation or thirst. In Trumpet #3 it says many people die from the "bitter" water. In my article here, I suspect some water may be contaminated with sulphuric acid from a meteor strike. The sun is also darkened by 1/3 in Trumpet #4 - this would again make it more difficult to grow crops. The economic collapse in Seal #3 would probably lead to at least some deaths from people who cannot afford to buy food.
Currently in our world where things are going relatively well, 36 million people die each year of starvation . In the Tribulation, this number will probably double or triple. If we assume say 70 million people per year die from lack of food in the Tribulation, that would total another 490 million deaths over 7 years. Our total is now up to around 4 billion deaths.
There are still all the Christian Martyrs to be accounted for. Beginning in Seal #5 the Antichrist will probably start to kill off the Christians who resist him. The beast (the Antichrist) "was allowed to fight against God's people and defeat them." (Revelation 13:7). Also "Everyone who refused to worship the idol of the beast was put to death."(Revelation 13:15). We know these people who refused to worship the Beast were Christians because "I also saw the souls of the people who had their heads cut off because they had told about Jesus and preached God's message. They were the same one who had not worshiped the beast or the idol, and they had refused to let its mark be put on their hands or foreheads."(Revelation 20:4). John sees a vision of a "large crowd with more people than could be counted, from every race, tribe, nation, and language" (Revelation 7:9) in heaven who had "gone through the great suffering and washed their robes in the blood of the lamb"(Revelation 7:14).
Currently there are 2 billion people on earth who identify as Christian or Catholic . A portion of those will be Raptured before the Tribulation. Unfortunately, it will probably not even be 50%. According to Barna, only 9% of American "Christians" actually have a Biblical worldview . This group only had to meet a few criteria: "defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.". This is just the most basic outline of Christianity, yet only 9% of Americans (supposedly a "Christian nation") are actually Christian in their beliefs!. So there will most likely be plenty of people left on earth after the Rapture who thought they were Christian, yet were Christian in name only. Perhaps the Rapture will wake them up and they will take their faith more seriously, and will probably have a high chance of being martyred for it. There will also be many new Christian converts during the Tribulation.
Let's assume that perhaps 30% of the left-behind Christians wake up and are martyred for their faith (the rest will probably follow the Antichrist and the false world religion - Revelation 13:8-15), and perhaps gain an extra 15% of new converts. That's 200 million raptured (10%) and so we are left with 1.8 billion "Christians" after the Rapture. Only 30% keep their faith (540 million), and 15% new converts (270 million) = 810 million Christians. Let's assume not all of them die - perhaps 5% (40 million) of these will escape the Antichrist and survive the 7 year Tribulation. This gives us a total of 770 million Christian martyrs. This would certainly match the "crowd too large to be counted" that John saw in his vision. These numbers are just my estimates, and there could be a larger number who are Raptured, or a larger number who convert after the Rapture.
Already, we are at 4.76 of 7 billion people dead during the Tribulation. This still does not include the deaths of people from the earthquakes, hailstones, asteroids, and wildfires which make up the rest of the judgements. Even a relatively localized earthquake can cause massive destruction as we saw happen in Haiti in 2010. The Haiti earthquake in 2010 was estimated to cause between 50,000 and 300,000 deaths . The earthquakes in the Tribulation will be worldwide and much worse than this one. I would guess probably 100 million dead from these earthquakes, and probably developed countries will do better than poor ones. This brings us up to 4.86 million deaths total in the Tribulation.
The asteroids will probably be smaller than the ones in the movies Armageddon or Deep Impact, but they will still probably cause some deaths. There aren't really any good stats about deaths vs. asteroid impacts since asteroid impacts are quite rare. Probably the best stats we have are from one asteroid which exploded over Russia back in 1908 . It was estimated as being "1,000 times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima". "The explosion knocked over an estimated 80 million trees covering 2,150 square kilometres (830 sq mi). It is estimated that the shock wave from the blast would have measured 5.0 on the Richter scale. An explosion of this magnitude is capable of destroying a large metropolitan area.". This asteroid was only maybe a few "tens of meters" across - so perhaps as large as a football field. Maybe this will be the approximate size of the smaller meteors in Seal #6, which are described as "figs" (Revelation 6:13). However, the asteroid described in the Trumpet #2 is called a "fiery mountain" (Revelation 8:8). This could be significantly larger than the one that hit Russia, but fortunately it lands in the ocean. It would probably cause a tsunami and depending on the exact size and impact location it could bring quite a bit of destruction. Let's assume perhaps another 500 million dead from the effects of the asteroids. That brings us up to about 5.4 billion dead from the whole Tribulation.
Total Approximate Deaths During the Tribulation
Based on the Bible and analysis of the various wars, famines, disasters, and various other events of the Tribulation, I have estimated that the total number of deaths over the 7 year period will be approximately 5.4 billion people, assuming a starting population of 7 billion. This means you have about a 23% chance of making it through the Tribulation. This is not including the probably several million who will die from the various other disasters which we were unable to estimate, so it might even be lower than that. Your chances of surviving the Tribulation will probably be slightly higher if you do not get drafted into the military and are not a Christian.
What Happens After The Tribulation?
Congratulations - you have somehow managed to survive the Tribulation. But wait... there is one last thing you'll have to survive in order to make it into the Millennium (the time period of 1000 years after the Tribulation - Revelation 20:1-6). When Jesus comes back and sets up his kingdom on earth, he will judge all those who have survived. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all of his angels, he will sit on his royal throne. The people of all nations will be brought before him."(Matthew 15:31-32). Here all the survivors of the Tribulation will be judged personally by Jesus. He will either say "My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created."(Matthew 25:34) or he will say "Get away from me! You are under God's curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!"(Matthew 25:41). What will Jesus use as the judgement criteria? "When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail you visited me" (Matthew 25:25-36 and Matthew 10:40-42).
So it seems that this judgement is not necessarily based on being a Christian. Instead, Jesus views people's actions during the Tribulation towards the persecuted Christians and the 144,000 special Jews as being done towards Himself. If you help them, it's like you helped Jesus, and the reward is you may enter the Millennium. If you did not help them, then you are thrown into the Lake of Fire, where the Antichrist, False Prophet, and eventually Satan and the demons will end up (Revelation 19:20 and 20:14-15). Interestingly, this type of judgement is part of the original Covenant that God made with Abraham: "I will bless anyone who blesses you (Israel), but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you (Israel)."(Genesis 12:3).
We have estimated 1.6 billion Tribulation survivors. The number who will be judged by Jesus will be much lower, as anyone who took the Mark of the Beast will be "tortured with fire and burning sulfur" (Revelation 14:10) which is probably the Lake of Fire. So since the majority of people may have taken the Mark, perhaps only 10% (160 million) of people managed to survive without the Mark during the Tribulation. Then, of that group perhaps only 50% (80 million) would have helped a Christian or Jew. So this 80 million, plus the perhaps 40 million Christian survivors (as estimated earlier) makes a total of 120 million people who would be allowed to live in the Millennium and repopulate the world. During this time these people will have kids and will be ruled under the government of Jesus.
Total World Population at the Beginning of the Millennium
So now if we see the chances of a person surviving not only the Tribulation, but the judgement afterwards, it decreases to 120 million out of 7 billion people, which is about 1.7%. 98.3% of the world's population will have been killed from the wars and disasters, or will be condemned to the lake of fire for taking the Mark of the Beast or not passing Jesus' judgement. Only 120 million will enter the Millennium under Jesus' rule. However, that is not the end of humanity. People will repopulate, and the world population in the Millennium may grow to dwarf what we experience now. Under the Millennium nature will be restored and it will be easier to grow food (Amos 9:13). People will also live longer and be able to have more kids in a lifetime (Isaiah 65:21-25). These two factors will allow the population to quickly recover and surpass the levels before the Tribulation.
So why should you care?
So what does all this have to do with you? Besides being perhaps theoretically interesting to Christian end-times scholars, would any other people care? I think people should care. If you are a Christian now (and a real Christian - not one who is Christian in name only, but actually believes it and loves Jesus) then you don't have to worry about all of this. Jesus comes to take all the real Christians to heaven in the Rapture before the Tribulation begins. If you don't know for sure if you would be Raptured, now is a good time to think and pray about it and work on your relationship with Jesus. Then you can feel secure and not be afraid when there are disasters all around us, even before the Tribulation starts. If you are a Christian now, then you need to think about those around you who are not. If you have friends or family who are not Christian they will probably die during the Tribulation. It's important that you tell them now how to avoid it and accept Jesus as their saviour. If you are curious about how else I think Christians and others should prepare for the Tribulation, read my article here.
If you're not a Christian, this should be a warning to you. Again, please read my article on how to prepare for the Tribulation. There is only a small chance that you'll make it through the disasters of the Tribulation, and an even smaller chance of making it into the Millennium. If the Tribulation starts, there is a very high chance that you will die in the next 7 years. And if you're not a Christian when you die, then you will end up in hell forever. God doesn't want this to happen - God wants you to accept him today, before any judgements begin. Even if you don't make up your mind for Jesus until the Rapture happens, which means you may die from the disasters or be killed by the Antichrist, it is much better to believe in Jesus than to end up in hell. This is a warning that you need to think about what is important and to consider what may happen when you die - you might even die tomorrow. I believe the Tribulation is approaching quickly, and the Rapture could happen anytime. Please consider learning more about Jesus and how to be saved before it's too late. A couple of introductory articles I have written on how to follow Jesus are written here and here.
 Wikipedia.org - List of Countries by Population
 Wikipedia.org - Starvation
 Wikipedia.org - World Religions: Largest Religions or Belief Systems By Number of Adherents
 Barna: Changes in Worldview Among Christians Over Past 13 Years
 Wikipedia.org - Casualties of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake
 Wikipedia.org - Tunguska Event