(or "Great Tribulation
") is an event referred to in the New Testament
of the Bible
at ("For then shall be great tribulation..." - King James Version
) and other passages.
In the futurist
view of Christian eschatology
, the Tribulation is a relatively short period of time where people who follow God will experience worldwide persecution and be purified and strengthened by it.
In the Christian preterist view the Tribulation took place in the past when Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD, and it affected the Jewish people rather than all mankind.
Dispensationalist or futurist view
While it is considered a period of immense suffering
, greater than anything before in history, believers are promised strong faith and powers to help them endure and prevail. Persecution
is attributed to the believers rebelling against the Antichrist
and his regime.
The Tribulation is generally thought to occur before the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the world. A viewpoint first made popular by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century and recently popularized by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth is that it will last seven years in all, being the last of Daniel's prophecy of seventy weeks. It is theorized that each week represents 7 years, with the timetable beginning from the order by King Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. After 7 plus 62 weeks, the prophecy says that the messiah will be "cut off", which is taken to correspond to the death of Christ. This is seen as creating a break of indeterminate length in the timeline, with one week remaining to be fulfilled.
This seven-year week may be further divided into two periods of 3.5 years each, from the two 3.5-year periods in Daniel's prophecy where the last seven years are divided into two 3.5-year periods, The time period for these beliefs is also based on other passages: in the book of Daniel, "time, times, and half a time," interpreted as "a year, two years, and half a year," and the book of Revelation, "a thousand two hundred and threescore days" and "forty and two months" (the prophetic month averaging 30 days, hence 1260/30 = 42 months or 3.5 years). The 1290 days of , (rather than the 1260 days of ), is thought to be the result of either a simple intercalary leap month adjustment, or due to further calculations related to the prophecy.
Among Christians who hold a futurist view of the Tribulation, there are differing views about what will happen to Christians during the Tribulation:
- Pretribulationists believe that all Christians then alive will be taken bodily up to Heaven (called the Rapture) before the Tribulation begins. Those who become Christians after the rapture will live through (or perish during) the Tribulation. After the Tribulation, Christ will return.
- Prewrath tribulationists believe the rapture will occur during the tribulation, halfway through or after, but before the seven bowls of the wrath of God.
- Seventh Trumpet Tribulationists believe the rapture will occur during the tribulation, halfway through or after, but before the seven bowls of the wrath of God. Specifically, at the sound of the Seventh Trumpet (Rev. 11:15, 1 Cori. 15:52) of the Seventh Seal.
- Midtribulationists believe that the rapture of the faithful will occur halfway through the Tribulation, but before the worst part of it occurs. The seven year period is divided into half - the "beginning of sorrows" and the "great tribulation" proper.
- Posttribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven. But, they will be received or gathered by Christ into the Kingdom of God on earth at the end of the Tribulation. "Immediately after the tribulation ... then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man [Jesus] ... and he shall gather his elect" (Matthew 24:29–31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27). The idea of a post-tribulation coming can also be read into 2 Peter 3:10-13 where Christ's return is equated with the "elements being melted" and "the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up."
In pretribulationism and midtribulationism, the rapture and the Second Coming (or Greek, par[a]ousia) of Christ are separate events; while in post-tribulationism the two events are identical or simultaneous. Another feature of the pre- and mid-tribulation beliefs are the idea that after the Rapture, Christ will return still again (a third coming), to set up his kingdom on the earth.
Some—including many Roman Catholic theologians—do not believe in a "time of trouble" period as usually described by tribulationists, but rather that there will be a near utopic period led by the Antichrist. Others, unable to form an opinion or simply desiring to remain non-divisive, describe themselves as pantribulationists believing that everything will "pan out in the end."
Many other groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in a rapture at any point. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the Great Tribulation is coming and is soon to arrive. This period will see the fall of Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot, as spoken of in Revelation. After Babylon the Great has been removed, they say, the world powers shall move against God's chosen people for a short while. This will then usher in the ending of this "world" (not the earth, but the removal of all those who do not wish to follow God by standards). The Great Tribulation ends with the battle of Armageddon.
Book of Revelation
Here is a list of events mentioned in the book of Revelation, some of which (usually attributed to the seven trumpets) occur during the Great Tribulation period. The following chronological order of end time events is presented here as seen in the book of Revelation, followed by a quick description of the 21 judgments (seals, trumpets, and bowls). The interpretation given is from the pre-tribulationist and literalist view. Of course, opinions among Christians differ:
First 3 1/2 Years:
- 1. The Rapture takes place. (but note that virtually no one interpreted the book of Revelation to suggest a 'pre-Tribulation Rapture' until the 19th century, see Rapture for details on the history of this doctrine)
- 2. The Rise of Antichrist and the False Prophet.
- 3. The Third Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem.
- 4. The Rise of Babylon.
- 5. The Rise of the false one-world religion.
- 6. The appearance of the two witnesses and the rise of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists.
- 7. The Seven Seal Judgments.
- 8. The Seven Trumpet Judgments.
- 9. Death and Resurrection of the Two Witnesses.
- 10. Destruction of the One World Church.
- 11. The death and resurrection of Antichrist.
- 12. Antichrist defiles the temple and proclaims himself God.
- 13. The Mark of the Beast begins.
- 14. The Jewish Remnant flees to the desert.
Second 3 1/2 Years:
- 15. 7 Bowl Judgments
- 16. Martyrdom of Jews and Believers
- 17. Babylon is destroyed
- 18. Antichrist summons the world's armies to Armageddon
- 19. Battle of Armageddon
- 21. Return of Jesus Christ in Glory
- 22. Antichrist and the False Prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire
- 23. Satan is bound for 1,000 years
- 24. Resurrection of Tribulation martyrs
End of the 7-year Tribulation.
- 25. Christ establishes His 1,000 kingdom.
- 26. Satan is released after 1,000 years. (His name will start with a C and End with an X.)
- 27. Final Battle.
- 28. Satan, Death, and Hell are cast into the Lake of Fire.
- 29. Great White Throne Judgment (Final Judgment).
- 30. New heaven and earth. Eternity begins.
- 1st Seal (Rev. 6:1-2): The White Horse of the Apocalypse. When he comes, he is given a crown and he goes out bent on conquest.
- 2nd Seal (Rev. 6:3-4): When the Red Horse comes he is given a large sword and he takes peace from the world, causing men to kill each other. The Antichrist reveals his true war-like self.
- 3rd Seal (Rev. 6:5-6): When the Black Horse comes he causes severe famine.
- 4th Seal (Rev. 6:7-8): The Pale Horse causes pestilence and death from the sword, famine, plague and wild beasts and Hades follow it. 1/4 of the world's population die from the horsemen.
- 5th Seal (Rev. 6:9-11): Martyrs begin dying during the Tribulation (The Antichrist begins his persecution of believers).
- 6th Seal (Rev. 6:12-17):
- Worldwide earthquake;
- Visible sunlight ceases and the image of the solar disk goes from granular to woven;
- The image of the moon resembles blood;
- The stars of the heaven fall to earth;
- The sky rolls up;
- Every mountain and island are dislodged;
- The entire world population flees to caves, canyons, dens, and cliffs; and
- The world population interprets the Sixth Seal events as signs for the beginning of the wrath of the Lamb (the Day of Wrath).
- 7th Seal (Rev. 8:1-6): Silence in Heaven, seven angels given seven trumpets, followed by fire being hurled to the Earth.
The sounding of the trumpets in Chapter 8 of Revelation, breaks the silence following the previous cycle of visions. Each trumpet blast brings with it a plague of a more disastrous nature than the one before it. The trumpet is used to build anticipation and tells the reader that an alert, announcement, or warning is about to take place.
- After the first trumpet sounds: Hail, fire, and blood fall upon the earth, burning one-third of the earth, trees, and grass. This is a plague similar to the hailstorm described in the book of Exodus, with the exception of the blood.
- Following the second trumpet blast: Something like a burning mountain plummets into the sea, turning one-third of the sea into blood, sinking one-third of the ships, and killing one-third of all the fish. Some Christian apologists believe this to possibly be an impact event of one of the Near-Earth objects.
- At the sound of the third trumpet: A star called Wormwood falls onto the Earth poisoning the freshwater sources such as streams and rivers.
- Following the fourth trumpet: Sun, stars and moon are darkened by one-third.
- After the fifth trumpet blows: Plague of indestructible locusts led by Apollyon, Chief Demon of the Abyss ravage the wicked forces of the Antichrist, inflicting endless pain. Many will try to kill themselves from the pain, but "death will flee from them". There is mention that believers will be sealed by God first, and the locusts will not attack them upon seeing God's seal on them.
- At the sound of the sixth trumpet: Over 200 million horsemen kill one-third of wicked left on Earth with massive strikes, fire, and smoke.
- At the sound of the seventh trumpet (last trumpet), from the Seventh Trumpet Raptureperspective, "... at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised" (1Cr 15:52). First Th 4:16 also mentions the Lord coming back "... with the trumpet of God."
The first six trumpets are used to serve as a wake up call to the sinners on Earth and a call to repentance. The seventh trumpet does not bring a plague with it. It is sounded as glory is being given to God and His kingdom is announced.
- Revelation 10:3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
- Revelation 10:4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.
- Revelation 10:7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
- Revelation 10:10 And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
The seven thunders in Revelation 10 are a mystery of God until the seventh angel actually sounds.
Seven vial (bowl) judgments
- Noisome and grievous sores (possibly boils or carbuncles) on the worshipers of the Beast (These sores only affect those bearing the mark of the beast, who worship his image.)
- Sea turns to blood
- Rivers turn to blood
- Sun burns with intense heat and scorches people (This is an intense heat plague, that is believed will also affect mostly those with the mark.)
- Antichrist's kingdom is plunged into darkness (It is not clear if it means all the earth, or only the Antichrist's capital. New Babylon, the city many believe will be this capital, is a likely place, but cities such as Rome and Jerusalem have also been proposed. This is a darkness reminiscent to the one described in the book of Exodus. It is so thick and deep that it causes literal pain. People writhe and gnash their teeth from the pain which is worsened by the sores that they still have from the first plague.)
- Euphrates River dries up and is prepared for battle from the armies from the east (To clarify, the river dries up to facilitate the crossing of the armies from the east, on their way to Israel for the battle of Armageddon.)
- Worldwide earthquake leveling every mountain into the sea followed by huge hailstones and lightning. (This could also be simultaneous earthquakes of great magnitude throughout the world. The earth's geography and topography will be altered forever, as every mountain and hill will be leveled, and every island will either move or disappear. The earthquakes are accompanied by huge 50-lb hailstones.)
(Note: Some believe that the seals and trumpets will occur during the first half of the tribulation. The vial judgments will occur during the second half, as the first one refers to those with the mark of the beast. The mark will not be implemented until the Antichrist dies and resurrects, and then defiles the Temple; and this will happen at precisely the mid-point of the tribulation. Thus, the vial judgments will be more severe, and will last longer than any of the previous ones.
(Others argue that the seals generally cover man's history from after the first coming of Christ up to the End time (although several seem to go well into this period), with the trumpets generally covering the Tribulation, and the Bowls reserved for the Wrath of God period — preceding the Millennium.)
Christian preterists believe that the Tribulation was a divine judgment visited upon the Jews for their sins, including rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah
. It occurred entirely in the past, around 70 AD when the armed forces of the Roman Empire
destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.
A preterist discussion of the Tribulation has its focus on the Gospels, in particular the prophetic passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, rather than on the Apocalypse or Revelation of John. (Preterists apply much of the symbolism in the Revelation to Rome, the Cæsars, and their persecution of Christians, rather than to the Tribulation upon the Jews.)
Jesus' warning in that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" is tied back to his similar warning to the Scribes and the Pharisees that their judgment would "come upon this generation" that is, during the first century rather than at a future time long after the Scribes and Pharisees had passed from the scene. The destruction in 70 AD occurred within a forty-year generation from the time when Jesus gave that discourse.
The judgment on the Jewish nation was executed by the Roman legions, "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" which Luke presented to his Gentile audience, unfamiliar with Daniel, as "armies" surrounding Jerusalem to cause its "desolation." (Luke 21:20)
Since Matthew 24 begins with Jesus visiting the Jerusalem temple and pronouncing that "there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (vs. 3), preterists see nothing in Scripture to indicate that another Jewish temple will ever be built. The prophecies were all fulfilled on the then-existing temple that Jesus spoke about and that was subsequently destroyed within that generation.
The historicist view of the Tribulation is similar to that of preterists in applying it to the Jews, rather than to a future judgment on the whole world. Armageddon
will bring God's wrath against all mankind, but the Tribulation is confined to the Jewish nation.
Historicists see Matthew's reference to "great tribulation" as parallel to Luke's reference to "great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people," the Jews. (Luke 21:23) Hence they conclude that it was fulfilled on the Jewish people alone.
However, unlike preterists who see fulfillment entirely in the distant past, historicists are prone to see prophecy fulfilled down through the centuries and even in today's world. Thus, instead of expecting a single Antichrist to rule the earth during a future Tribulation period, Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other Reformers saw the Antichrist as a present feature in the world of their time, fulfilled in the papacy and the Islamic invasion of Europe.
Similarly, some modern historicists see the Tribulation on the Jews as beginning in 70 AD and continuing for centuries, covering the same time span as "the times of the Gentiles" during which "Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles." (Luke 21:24) This view would have it encompass not only the death of a million Jews at the hands of the Roman legions, but also the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust. The Tribulation would have ended, according to this understanding, at the restoration of the nation of Israel in 1948 or at the return of Jerusalem to Jewish control in 1967.
- The Great Tribulation: Past or Future by Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. (Kregel Publications, 1999) ISBN 0-8254-2901-3
- Four Views on the Book of Revelation by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Sam Hamstra Jr., C. Marvin Pate and Robert L. Thomas (Zondervan, 1998) ISBN 0-310-21080-1