In Matthew 24, great tribulation refers to the sufferings and trials Christians go through. Great meant a more significant period of it, such as war and pestilence like the Seven Churches were going through. These great trials come about frequently throughout church history, such as the Roman occupation of Israel and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., as well as our more current civil wars, world wars, or extreme persecutions such as in Sudan. This may also refer to “the great tribulation,” as stated in Daniel, denoting extreme persecution and hostility that comes about at the end of the age, and that may come about before Christ’s return. However, the application is more likely in mind here, and not just the foretelling of events. The point is that when we persevere in our faith, in spite of the obstacles that a sin-infested world provides us, and we prevail as we persevere in our faith, we will come out of the tribulation because neither great or small crises or doubts will have gotten us since we are in Christ (Dan. 12:1; 2 Thess. 1:5-6; 1 Tim. 3:1-12; Rev. 1:9; 2:9-10; 7:9-17).
Jesus is explaining to us the events in the first part of the Tribulation symbolically in this passage, and the rest in the next (Matt. 24:29-35), the Judgment of Jerusalem. This is not about one event but many to come when He returns to earth in power and glory! Jesus gives us some of the signs that will be warnings of things to come. The call is to watch and to be ready, but not be consumed or worried, for He is still in control. We are to look to Him (Phil. 3:20), not just the signs. We are to trust in Him, not in the times; our faith is in Him, not what will or may happen!
We have to be careful that our interpretation of Scripture is accurate in word and meaning before we make an application to it! We are never to ignore His words, and absolutely never to replace them with ours! It is not about what we think or wish for; it is about His will and His timing! Jesus can come at any time; He is not bound by the limits of our understanding of Eschatology (End Times Theology). He is God, and His timing and control are sovereign! Our age will end and a new age will be birthed—the accumulation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The debates as to when and how are irrelevant; what is important is, we know it will occur. We are to be watchful and discerning that people do not deceive us falsely and that we do not give into despair when things get really tough. We are also to make sure we do not become complacent and ignore the signs, or we will be unable to flee them. Stress and tribulation will produce either panic or perseverance; this result can be in your control by surrendering yourself to His control! The possibilities are His also, even when we do not see them! Even in severe tribulation, there is hope—the hope of Christ (Psalm 19:7-14; 97:1-98:9; Rom. 8:28-39)! No matter what will or may happen, God will redeem those who are in Him!
In Revelation 7:9-17, the sufferings and trials of life did not derail this crowd from His plan and purpose. Not even their hurt feelings, their being betrayed themselves, or the tribulations of life, whether overt or benign, dejected them. These are the Christians whose faith is real and applied. They have succeeded in their faith and now they take their triumphant entry into His presence and their reward. It is always worth it, because no matter what we face or what we go through, there is an intention from our Lord; His leading is what is best for us, including our growth and rationale. In Christ, we will succeed and prevail!
Like in Matthew 24, the passages in Revelation cover the period before the second coming of our Lord that Jesus tells us about in Mark 13:6-8. It is about calamities, tumults, and chaos that are expected in suffering because of the impact and veracity of sin in the world that these people in these seven churches are and will face, and what we may face too. It is a continual experience, as the people in John’s time were going through this and, in varying degrees; we have already or will go through it. But, this is also an apex and a climax coming just before the final judgments, when the world gets a “break” and an opportunity to know Christ before His final pronouncement (Matt. 24:14). These passages’s primary purpose was not to predict the details of final events; rather, it was meant to encourage us to go through them with increased faith and our eyes focused upon our Lord. It is not important to know what takes place when, what our presumptions are, or which “end times” theory is best, as we will all be wrong on that. The important lessons are how Christ will be glorified and how we will learn and grow through it!
Tribulation (singular) means “The Day of the Lord” which will come about in the “last days.” It also means “sufferings” as the Greek word “thlipsis” means “sufferings” and the Hebrew for “sufferings” means a “time of distress”. This term has been wrought with controversy in the last 100 years. I, for time’s sake, will not explore all the theories in depth (because most of them are just like the nuts left over from a squirrel convention and miss the point); however, we will look further as we progress in the book of Revelation.
Tribulations (plural) also refer to the hardships we face. The same word in the Greek is found at: (Matt. 13:21; 24:9; 24:21; 24:29; Rom. 2:9; 5:3; 8:35; 12:12; Col. 1:24; Heb. 10:33; Rev. 1:9; 2:10; 2:22, to name a few), meaning afflictions, anguish, distress, persecution, trouble, and of course as tribulation as singular and plural. In Daniel, it is the period of suffering instigated from God because of the world’s wickedness and denial of Him. God does not always cause those hardships to go away; rather, He carries us through and uses them to bring about our maturity and character. Trials build faith and character, allowing us to be better used to glorify Him. Trials are not a personal attack against us; rather, they allow God to work more deeply in us to make us of better use to Him, and for the sake of others.
The Great Tribulation is the time Jesus warned of (Matt. 24) as the ending of the age (Rev. 6-19), and the week is a day of the Lord found in Daniel (Dan. 12:1; Thess. 5:2). These accounts are described in various ways in Scripture; “the day of the Lord,” “tribulation(s)” and “Jacob‘s trouble” are found throughout Scripture. Besides the examples already referenced above, we also see it in Isa. 2:11, 17, 20; 6:5; Jer. 30:7; Amos 5:18; 8:9; Joel 1:15; 2:2-11; Zeph. 1:14; Dan. 9:27, 12:1; Matt. 24:21; and Rev. 7:14; 16:17-21.
Many believe this has already taken place, as in the “Preterist” view. Josephus, an early Jewish historian who was there during the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, describes the devastation similarly to how Jesus foretold it. Others (Futurists) believe this only applies to a future period of great distress at the end of the age before Christ’s Second Coming. Still others, such as the Historicists, see it as cycles that keep repeating. A more balanced biblical view would include both; sufferings will keep coming and they will culminate in a final fruition of great turmoil before His return.
The point of tribulation is not the specifics or when or how; rather, it is our God, who wants us focused upon Him as Lord. What we learn in our preparations is far more valuable than what will come about in our theories. Its principle purpose is to reveal Christ as Lord and the end of the age. It also gives us firm instructions on how to live our lives by being faithful to Christ and receiving His promises as well as His warnings in our life now (Jer. 22.10: 30:7; Amos 5:16-17; Matt. 24:21; Rom. 5:1-11; Rev. 2: 1-7).
What does it mean for us today?
The Great Tribulation, or tribulations in general are to be feared (if you do not know the Lord), as the righteous will receive the comfort of Christ in tribulation, for He is still loving and shepherding us through (Isa 25:8; 66:13-14; Matt. 5:4; John 14:16-18; Rev 21:4). Remember, this is not just about what will or may happen, but how we are through it (Isa. 35:10; 51:11). No matter what is facing us and no matter what we have experienced, what we go through in life is meant to form our character and maturity. What we learn is what we carry into eternity. When we fail and do not overcome, it is disappointing in our Lord’s sight. Being faithful is the key that opens to us the door to living in the New Jerusalem (John 13:34; 16:33; Phil. 1; 1 John 4:20; 5:4-5; Rev. 2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:1-22:5).
Here are some more popular terms on this:
- Preterism means “fulfilled eschatology,” or that the date, 70 A.D. that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 was all fulfilled. The Tribulation teaching is in reference to the rapture and resurrection of the saints that has already occurred; we are now living in the millennial age.
- Partial Preterism means some things have been fulfilled, but Christ has not yet come back.
- Pre-tribulation. This view teaches that the Church will not go through the tribulation but will be “raptured” away to heaven. The Tribulation is specifically to break the will of Israel and save them as a nation, as well as to have the world repent because of the judgments found in the book of Revelation.
- Mid-tribulation refers to a mid seventieth-week rapture. The church will be taken out before the Great Tribulation which occurs when the Antichrist goes into the Temple and declares himself God approximately 1,260 days before Christ comes back.
- Post-tribulation believes that Christ will come back at the end of the Tribulation and those who remain alive through it are raptured. There are four views within this position as well: Classic, semi-classic, futurist, and dispensational.
- Partial-rapture subscribes that only those who are watching, waiting, and are making themselves prepared will go.
- Pre-rapture-wrath is a three-fourths view that believes the church will go through much of the tribulation to purify and perfect the bride.
The study of eschatology is important, but, compared to issues such as prayer, Bible study, who Christ is, basic doctrine, faith development, living in the Spirit, and growing in character and service to our neighbors and people in need, it really is not that important for us to know or to teach!
The main point of these passages on tribulation is to tell us not to be discouraged, but remain faithful and vigilant. We are to live our lives as if Christ would be coming tomorrow, or preparing and planning as if He were coming a thousand years from now. We are no to be preoccupied with the details and trivialities. That is why Jesus did not give them to us. Rather, our faith development and steadfastness are far more impacting and real on ourselves and others around us! Isn’t it strange that people on TV can predict the day and hour of Christ’s return when Jesus Himself did not? I remember a popular book, 88 Reasons why Jesus Is Coming Back In 1988! Most of the TV preachers were expounding this; I knew people who gave away their homes and cars, and when He did not come back, they were so disillusioned that they are not part of any church today! Now remember all the sensationalism in 1999, and now for the year 2012? Most of it is just nonsense! There may be a rapture, there may not be one; Jesus may come in the beginning, or the middle of, or at the end of the tribulation. He is God and He is not confined to our wishful thinking or ideas! I will still buy cars with sunroofs (get out easier) and keep watchful, but this will not consume me as it has others. Do not be distracted from that to which Christ has called you! Do not waste your time in the particulars of eschatology; it really is not important. Christ commands us to know Him and make Him known, to grow in Him and help others grow, to worship Him and help others worship Him, too. If we spend our time in the debate of eschatology, we will ignore His more vital calls, such as evangelism, discipleship, and our own growth in Him!