The Great Tribulation

photo credit: ivarfjeld.com

photo credit: ivarfjeld.com

Introduction 

To some theologians, the idea of a 7-year period of time of “tribulation,” preceding a 1,000-year reign of Christ is thought of as an invention of fundamentalism. It would even seem somewhat unnecessary to many others. Why would God spend so much time on future events in prophecy when it would be much simpler to purely have a general, final judgment of the saved and unsaved, followed by eternity future? The swiftest response would be that God’s Word expresses such details of a rapture, a tribulation period, and a millennial reign of Christ. However, for purposes of this research, the focus will narrow down to the great tribulation, namely, its biblical precedence and its importance in all of future prophecy.

Biblical Overview of the Great Tribulation

There are many biblical passages one could begin with in a discussion of the tribulation, but for beginning with “why” a tribulation period would be necessary for God’s plans as revealed in His Word, Romans 11 would be pertinent. Paul says in verses 25-27:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

John Witmer comments on this section of Scripture by stating, “God’s sovereign plan to put Israel aside temporarily in order to show grace to Gentiles is no basis for conceit on the part of the Gentiles; it is designed to display further the glory of God.”[1] And it would seem most reasonable from this passage that God would be most glorified through a profound, national repentance of Israel. With national Israel in an almost unanimous rejection of the Messiah, how would such a dramatic change take place? The biblical answer is via a great tribulation.

The next passage to consider is Matthew 24, where Jesus speaks of some rather descriptive events. In verses 15-16, He says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Obviously, it would be significant to know what Daniel was talking about in his text. In Daniel 9:26-27, the Scriptures say:

And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.

Clearly, then, there are expected “abominations” to cause severe commotion. Subsequently, Matthew 25:21-22 connects the passage in Daniel to what Jesus is prophesying, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” While Barbieri and Barbieri state, “The awful character of the Tribulation period cannot be truly grasped by anyone,”[2] the details that are given do not match up with anything in past history; the great tribulation must be still to come.

Two biblical books that speak quite definitively on details the tribulation are Daniel and Revelation. Alva McClain once wrote, “If [one] desire[s] to expound the Book of Revelation, [he] must begin with the Book of Daniel.”[3] In Daniel 9, we are told that the tribulation period will start with a covenant between the “prince who is to come” (the “little horn” from 7:24-25) and the “many,” which would be the nation of Israel. The Apostle Paul refers to this individual as “the man of lawlessness” in Second Thessalonians 2:3-4. Scripture leads its readers to believe that a temple will be formed in the tribulation and that it is the “man of lawlessness” who “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thess. 2:4). In time, however, many acts of judgment against Israel, specifically, and the entire world, generally, will result, as detailed in Revelation 6-19: the seal, trumpet, and then bowl judgments.[4] Meanwhile, there will be political alliances forming, the covenant between the “man of lawlessness” and Israel will be broken, Satanic influences will progress, and intense persecution will become inevitable. After the sheer horror of the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), finally the Messiah will return and set up His Kingdom. And so the question must arise once again, “Why would God do this?” The simple answer is so that Israel might repent and believe on Christ as the Messiah and be banished of “ungodliness” (Romans 11:26). Jesus even prophesies the timing of His coming, as He spoke to Israel, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39). Until then, Israel will be under a “partial hardening” (Romans 11:25).

Conclusion

            The Bible is saturated, particularly the Old Testament, with national redemptive prophecies concerning the nation of Israel. Even the apostles became eager for such a time of restoration in Acts 1:6, asking Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They must not have been listening to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23, for that time will come by God’s sovereignty through the great tribulation and by Israel’s repentance by turning to “him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). Such a horrific time period as it is, nevertheless, will be used by God for His glory and for the good of His people. It will be the necessary precedent for God to fulfill His promises to Abraham and David, and to have the Palestinian and New Covenants come into fruition in the Kingdom. While the tribulation is about judgment and the repentance, ultimately, it is about God being glorified through fulfilling His promises. And although the path to that end is filled with great destruction, the glories of the Kingdom and eternity will be worth the trials and “great” tribulation.


[1] John A. Witmer, “Romans” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), Ro 11:25–27.

[2] Louis A. Barbieri and Jr., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), Mt 24:15–26.

[3] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 6.

[4] See Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 542.

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