Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Tribulation

I must confess that terms like the day of the Lord, the tribulation and the great tribulation confused me when I first became interested in rapture eschatology. Some would say I’m still confused and to a degree I think they might be correct. I am still trying to sort out some of these ideas.

Generally, pretribulationists call the 70th week of Daniel “The Tribulation”. While monitoring discussions between pretribbers and non-pretribbers I’ve seen claims (by non-pretribbers) that the last seven years are not ALL tribulation. One question I’ve often seen posed is this, “What makes you think there’s a Seven Year Tribulation?” The logic is that the term tribulation is only mentioned by the Lord in the Olivet Discourse describing the days that proceed after the Abomination of Desolation. So because the term wasn’t used for the first half of the week then it follows that those days are not tribulation. This idea assumes that if a word is missing from a group of Scriptures, the concept isn’t there.

Carrying on with that train of thought, because the Church is never promised to be spared from tribulation and the events following the AoD are tribulation, then the Church will be in the great tribulation. Further, some try to restrict the “great tribulation” to Satan’s wrath because of Rev 12:12. However, while this verse is telling us that Satan is coming down in wrath; this does not automatically mean that God’s wrath isn’t operational at that time.

The last half of Daniel's week (or part of it) is usually referred to as - the “Great Tribulation” - based on the Lord’s words in Mat 24:21. I should point out that the Lord did not just designate that period of time as THE “Great Tribulation” - what He actually did was describe the TYPE of tribulation of that time. He said it would be “GREAT” tribulation, “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” That distinction is important for two reasons:

1) I mentioned that some people argue that since Christ only called that period “great tribulation” then the first half of the week is not tribulation and, therefore, pretribulationists are wrong to label Daniel’s last week, the 7 year tribulation. I think this is erroneous on two levels:

a) Just because a word is absent from a set of Scriptures does not mean the idea is not there. Man’s wrath is not mentioned at all in the seals yet it is thought of as being there by some. The word Trinity isn’t mentioned in Scripture yet the doctrine is accepted.

b) The word for tribulation is thlipsis. Strong’s meaning is - pressure (literally or figuratively): - afflicted, (-tion), anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble. The same word appears in Romans several times and Corinthians twice, set in a contemporary context. So given the meaning of the word; the fact that Christians have experienced thlipsis prior to the 70th week and the nature of the seal judgments, pretribbers are correct in calling the whole of the week, the tribulation, and this also assumes that the opening of the first seal initiates the 70th week.

2) Many hold that the “great tribulation” and the DotL are two DISTINCT periods. Yet if the “great tribulation” is a technical term that is distinct to the day of the Lord then we have problematical verses to resolve. Compare Matt 24:21, Jer 30:5-7, Dan 12:1 and Joel 2:1-2. These verses refer to Jacob’s Distress, the “great tribulation” and the day of the Lord as all being periods of unparalleled times of trouble. But if the GT is the greatest time of trouble then the DotL cannot be, and vice versa. Either Scripture is using hyperbole and it doesn’t really mean what it says or the DotL and the GT do, in fact, overlap in some way.

Mat 24:21 "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.

“…nor ever will.” If this verse is talking about the Great Tribulation, and the great and terrible day of the Lord comes immediately after the GT as a separate and distinct period - then, according to the Lord’s own words, the DotL cannot be as terrible as the GT.

One very important issue is the teaching that the “great tribulation” - originally intended to be three and a half years – has been shortened for the sake of the elect based on Matt 24:22 and Mark 13:20. But I don’t think those verses teach a shortening of the GT in the way that is sometimes claimed. I suggest that the Lord’s meaning is that unless He intervenes and cuts short that period of time to three and a half years, no flesh will be saved. The elect is a composite of Israel and Tribulation believers (Christians/Church?). It is for their sake that the period is cut short otherwise they (the combined flesh) would not survive to populate the Millennium.

If we take the view that the GT is cut short because that period is so bad that no flesh would be saved then the day of the Lord must - by necessity - not be as terrible. The idea that the days are shortened ONLY for the sake of the elect has no logical significance if it is applied uniquely to the Church and the rapture. At the rapture, those who have died are resurrected anyway, so the “cutting short” is redundant for them. A comparison of all the Scriptures relating to that period - taken literally and in context - reveals that the GT/Jacob’s Distress is a full three and a half years.

Compare Dan 7:25, Dan 11:36, Dan 12:7, Rev 13:5, Rev 12:14 and finally Rev 20:4. God prophesied in Daniel and even caused a vow to be uttered to attest to it, that the period would be three and a half years.

Another reason given for the shortening of the GT is directly related to the Antichrist’s persecution of the elect – both Israel and believers. The argument is that if the beast’s persecution wasn’t somehow stemmed, there would be no saved people alive to enter the Millennium. Presumably, in this scheme, while the DotL is more terrible than the GT, somehow believers are protected through it. This would give time for some people to become saved after the rapture.

That the Antichrist’s persecution of the saints hasn’t been amputated is confirmed in Revelation which occurs after Matthew and Mark. We are told that the beast has authority to act for 42 months, confirming Daniel’s prophecy. Moreover, both Dan 7:25 and Rev 13:7 tell us that he conquers the saints. And finally in Rev 20:4 we see those who were martyred for not worshiping the beast are resurrected at the end of the week.

Given all this, we should ask ourselves why God – in His Omniscience – would need to change His mind. This would contradict His Immutability. If God knew and planned His sovereign purpose from Eternity Past, why would He prophesy that something would occur only to change it later? (Isa 46:9-11)

“…when someone changes his/her mind, it is often because new information has come to light that was not previously known, or the circumstances have changed that require a different kind of attitude or action. Because God is omniscient, He cannot learn something new that He did not already know.”

In summary I think that:

The term tribulation is applicable to all of Daniel’s last seven years.

Just because a particular word is absent from a set of Scriptures does not mean the concept isn’t there.

The last three and a half years are obviously worse than the first half and are generally referred to as the Great Tribulation (Jacob's Distress) – especially because Israel is the focus here.

There seems to be an overlap between the GT and the DotL based on some Scriptures.

The Great Tribulation is three and a half years. Matt 24:22 and Mark 13:20 should be compared in context with other Scriptures to understand what the Lord really meant.

Just because the Church is not promised to be spared from tribulation, it does not automatically follow that it will experience the events of the 70th week of Daniel. One needs to determine where the wrath of God occurs within the last week and I’ll try to address this soon.

Further reading:


God’s Purpose For The Tribulation



The Bible associates a woman’s birth pangs with tribulation. See Jer 6:24, 50:43 and John 16:21. The same concept is used by Paul (1 Thes 5:3) and by the Lord referring to the period prior to the Abomination of Desolation (Mat 24:8).


drk said...

Let's not forget the arguement Allen Beechick makes- how can Christians be looking for Christ to come at an unannounced date, unless the Rapture occurs before the seventieth week? Otherwise, they would know when He is coming. Maybe not specifically, but they can pin it down to seven years. Unless the treaty which is signed,assumedly signalling the start of the seventieth week, is not so obvious that it is definitely the treaty (like the ENP), and then people might have an idea the Rapture will be coming soon, but they can't be sure, until the AC tips his hand somehow.

mac said...

Thanks for reminding me about Beechick and you’re absolutely right. Mind you, I can see why the pre-wrath view tries to make a point that the Lord can come some time after the AoD and before the end of the week and we can’t pin down the day or the hour, therefore that satisfies the Lord’s meaning. It just doesn’t convince me because that isn’t what the Lord says. There’s a surprise element surrounding the rapture that I think pre-trib answers best (Matt 24:44)

Irv said...


Guess what. If you can figure out when the "sudden destruction" of wicked persons takes place in I Thess. 5:3 (and also when "death" is ended in I Cor. 15:54), you will know where to place the rapture on your prophecy chart because those passages talk about the "times and seasons" (and also the "when" and "then") of the rapture. Neat, huh? And if you would like to locate the ONE article that Ice, Jeffrey, Missler, Strandberg, Lindsey, LaHaye, Van Impe, Hagee, and Swaggart don't want you to read, visit the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site and click on "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" !

[The above and I met recently - for anyone's interest. BTW, the days of the trib will be shortened - and by how much we can't know - and is there a verse which says we can know the exact start of the trib, as it is in God's mind? Just my thots. Irv]

mac said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Irv. But, in case you missed it, here’s what Scripture tells us, again:

Dan 7:25 He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

When is the indignation finished? Dan 11:36 "And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.”

This is a vow. Notice that both arms are lifted – double whammy: Dan 12:7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.

Rev 12:14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

Rev 13:5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.

It’s pretty plain and simple to me.

mac said...

Generally speaking most scholars agree that Daniel's 70th week begins at the opening of the 1st seal. Some pretrib sholars believe it could be at the 6th seal – Goodgame, Lowe, Berner, Koenig and a few others I can’t recall now. But really bad things begin to happen when the 1st and second seals are opened. So, given the meaning of tribulation, I’m pretty sure that that is when it begins.