Biblical Research & Education Resources

 Blaine Robison, M.A., M.R.E.

The Great Tribulation

Published 9 October 2007; Revised 11 January 2012


Definition of Tribulation

1. The Greek word in the Besekh translated as tribulation is thlipsis, which literally means pressure or a pressing. Sometimes the word is translated as affliction. It occurs 45 times in the Besekh. Thlipsis refers both to distress brought about by outward circumstances or spiritual or emotional anguish because of the circumstances.

2. The first usage of thlipsis in the Besekh is Matthew 13:21 where Yeshua describes seed sown on rocky soil as the man who receives the word of God with joy, but then falls away because of affliction or persecution.

3. The next usage of thlipsis is in the Olivet teaching in which Yeshua warns his disciples that they would experience tribulation (Matt 24:9; cf. John 16:33). Throughout the Besekh tribulation is treated as a normal and expected experience for the saints (Acts 14:22; Rom 5:3; 8:35; 12:12; Eph 3:13; 1 Thess 1:6; 3:3-4; 2 Thess 1:4; 2 Tim 3:12; Heb 10:33; Rev 1:9).

4. For the apostles and the first century disciples the experience of tribulation varied in intensity. It included hatred, betrayal, being cut off from family inheritance, loss of civil rights, confiscation of property, loss of employment, imprisonment, and being executed (see also Acts 7:9-10; 20:23; 2 Cor 1:4, 8; 2:4; 4:8; 6:4; 7:4; Phil 3:7-8; 4:14; 2 Tim 3:11).

5. The source of tribulation for the saints is not God but Satan or the world (John 15:18-23; 1 Pet 5:8). Yeshua prayed that His disciples would not be taken out of the world, but that we would be protected spiritually from the schemes of the evil one (John 17:15). We must be prepared to take up our cross as He did.

6. Yet, good can come out of tribulation, because we can learn perseverance and strengthen our hope in God. Moreover the Holy Spirit does not leave us during tribulation (Rom 5:3-5) and not even tribulation can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:35-37).

Nature of the Great Tribulation

1. The meaning of thlipsis in the Besekh as referring to trials experienced by the saints does not change by adding the adjective ďgreatĒ to it. The great tribulation is called ďgreatĒ simply because ďsuch as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever willĒ (Matt 24:21). This same hyperbole is used in Daniel 12:1 of a distress that Israel will experience. In the past tribulations of Godís people were localized. The great tribulation will be global in scope.

2. According to Matthew 24:21 the great tribulation is initiated by the one that commits the abomination of desolation, the little horn of Daniel 7:21-25 and the prince of Daniel 9:27, otherwise known in the New Testament as Antichrist, Man of Lawlessness, Son of Destruction and Beast. The great tribulation concludes before the coming of Yeshua in the clouds (Matthew 24:29).

3. The length of the great distress or tribulation, according to Daniel 7:25 and 12:7, is ďa time, times and half a time,Ē presumptively three and a half years since Daniel 12:11 says there will be 1,290 days from the time the abomination of desolation is established until the end. Yeshua said that the time of the great tribulation would be cut short for the sake of the chosen ones (Matt 24:22). This exception could allude to the fact that the two witnesses prophesy and the woman, presumptively Israel, are protected for 1,260 days, and then Israel is given 30 days to mourn over their Messiah (Zech 12:10-12; Matt 24:30).

4. The beast will wage a fierce war against the saints, wearing down the saints and shattering the power of the holy people (Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 11:7; 12:17; 13:7). He will succeed as no previous tyrant in silencing the voice of Godís people. According to the narrative of the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9-11 and Johnís conversation with the angel in Revelation 7:9-17, millions will be martyred in the great tribulation. It should be noted that throughout the New Testament the saints are members of the Church. Nowhere does Scripture say that the great tribulation will only be directed at Jews.

5. There is one point to ponder. The Rapture may be a purely academic dispute if virtually all the Church is martyred in the great tribulation. The only ones seen being protected during this time are the 144,000 Israelites (Rev 7:3) and the woman (Rev 12:6).

Tribulation and Wrath

1. The great tribulation is often confused by Bible interpreters with Godís wrath. Godís people have been promised that they will not be subject to Godís wrath (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9). This is one point on which all four end time interpretations agree. However, dispensationalists insist that to be saved from Godís wrath means not experiencing the great tribulation.

2. Godís wrath by definition refers to His intense anger at sin and vengeance to punish sin (Rom 1:18). ďThe wages of sin is deathĒ (Rom 6:23). All people without God are ďchildren of wrathĒ (Eph 2:3) and all those that refuse to believe in Yeshua as Messiah and Lord can only expect to be separated from God after death (John 3:36).

3. God also promises wrath against any of His people that fall away, go back to a life of sin and treat God as an enemy (Lev 26:28; Deut 9:7-8; Ps 78:21; Isa 59:18; Jer 4:4; Ezek 16:38; Zech 7:12; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6; Heb 3:11; 4:3). In reality, the only Christians that have to worry about tribulation caused by God are those who rebel against Him (Rom 2:9; Rev 2:22).

4. God also promises that a special day of wrath is coming known as the Day of the Lord in which He will punish the ungodly nations with utter destruction (Zeph 1:15-18; Matt 3:7; Rom 2:5; 2 Pet 3:7; Rev 6:16-17; 14:10, 17). This is the day in which the bowls of Godís wrath will be poured out on the beast and his followers (Rev 16:1-19) and Satanís rule on the earth brought to a bloody conclusion in the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 19:11-21).

5. In contrast the great tribulation represents the wrath of Satan against Godís people (Rev 12:12). The trumpet plagues that occur in the last six months of the beastís reign portend the coming day of judgment even as God proclaims the eternal gospel for the last time and offers the world a chance for repentance (Rev 9:20-21; 14:6-7). The bowls of wrath complete Godís retribution on the unrepentant world for the sufferings of His people (cf. 2 Thess 1:6-10).