The great tribulation is coming?
“It will be 3.5 years of hell on earth” says the fire breathing evangelists and virtually all proponents of biblical prophecy, but I disagree, I say it’s been here. I’ll not imply that the last half of Jesus seven year ministry, to confirm the covenant, will be gentle since the first part was that of the lamb and the second is that of the lion, but this is not the tribulation that Jesus was talking about in Matt 24. I’ll start my argument with the words of Jesus.
The events of Matt 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 are usually crammed forward into the last 7 years before the Lords coming; half of which is supposed to be relatively peaceful under the rulership of the Antichrist; The remaining 3.5 years are supposed to be the fulfillment of all things labeled ‘tribulation’.
The Lords words contained here are in answer to two questions. The disciples had been drawing Jesus attention to the magnificent buildings of the temple and Jesus told them they would all be destroyed, so they asked him (question 1) when (would the temple be destroyed) and also (2) what would be the signs of his return. Jesus does a quick rundown of what to expect from their current time until his return, which is focusing on question two between Matt v4 and 14. He speaks of the wars that must transpire over time as the phrase in v6 indicates: “such things must happen, but the end is not yet.” He predicted famines and earthquakes and calls them beginnings of birth pangs. I want to emphasize that what Jesus spoke of in Matt 24 covered a span of time between the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to the time of his return, not just the few years prior to his return.
Now either Jesus simply didn’t answer the first question about the destruction of the temple, or he did in Matt 24:15-21. Writers on this subject seem to completely ignore the question about the temple as if the subject is signs of Jesus return only; verse16 says the subject is ‘those in Judea’, and who else besides the Jews would need to pray that their fleeing should not be on the Sabbath. Verse 24:21(KJV) “for then there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
The subject here is what happens in Judea, and the contemporary of this account in Luke21:20-24 makes it clear that this is speaking of Jerusalem’s destruction (including the temple), and the time of the punishment of the Jews predicted often by the prophets in fulfillment of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28:15 through 31:17; (Luke 21:21) “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. V22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written” (Remember that in this perspective, this is the last half of 2,520 years, a 1,260 year period of final fulfillment, the great tribulation of the Jewish people). “V23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people(the Jews). V24They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations (the Diaspora). Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (1260 years in which no Jew, without converting to Islam, could set foot on the holy site, the epicenter; this happened between 688 and 1948.)
From the starting point of the destruction of Jerusalem (which wasn’t complete until 135 AD) until the time of the coming of the Lord (which is described in Zech 14 as the time he comes to defend Jerusalem), is covered in these remaining verses speaking of that time: Lu21:25 “there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.V26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. V27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
This tribulation spoken of here in Matt24, Mark13 and Luke 21 starts with Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans, and if you’ve ever read Josephus, there is no question that this event was the worst event ever to come to the city, but God promises that after the Jewish people are gathered again to the holy land and the destruction of Jerusalem is again imminent, he will defend it himself. Zech14:2 says the city will be invaded again, but not be destroyed: V2 “I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.” This will be a horrific time for Israel but v3 says the Lord will go out and fight against the nations that attack her.
The time of its total destruction however was a onetime event (though you can say it was a multi decade event) as shown by Ezek5:8 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Ezek 5:9 Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.” The Lord also makes such statements in Isa 51:22-23”from the goblet of my wrath you will never drink again”. To whom is this statement addressed? Isa 51:17 says he’s talking to Jerusalem.
Here are some details of God’s wrath.
Ezek 5:10 “Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.
V11 Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you.
V12 A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword.
V13 Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath upon them, they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal.
V15 I will make you a ruin and a reproach among the nations around you, in the sight of all who pass by.”
In 70 AD the Romans trapped the Jews within Jerusalem until they starved to death (Josephus wars of the Jews 5.12.3): “Then did the famine widen its progress, and devour the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandering like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead wherever their misery seized them.”
In 5.11.1 Josephus notes that at least 500 Jewish rebels were caught, whipped and crucified per day during the siege of Jerusalem to a total of an estimated 10,000 persons, and as many as 200,000 Jews were crucified throughout Palestine. This and the direct slaughter of the people and destruction of the city are unprecedented. Since that time the list of atrocities the Jewish people have suffered at the hand of the populations of the countries in which they were driven seems endless. The Jews have suffered this great tribulation for many hundreds of years, and it was certainly capped off by the Nazi inflicted holocaust which so literally reflects the imagery of Ezekiel’s prophecy in (Ezek 5) as he lay on the temple steps burning the hair representing what would happen to Jerusalem’s people. God adds, in Ezek 5:4 that this fire would spread to the whole house of Israel. What a graphic and horrible fulfillment in Hitler’s final solution.
Temple to be rebuilt
Since the subject of the temple has been touched on again, I’m reminded that I failed to mention that the Temple spoken of in Ezekiel chapters 40-47 is supposed to be rebuilt by the Jews before Jesus can return according to some pastors such as one I listened to quite recently.
Just looking at some of the description of this temple and it’s clear that the Jews don’t build this temple without some heavenly assistance: Ezek 47:1 “The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side;” Skipping to verse 5 “He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross;” Skipping again to verse 12 “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing." This is clearly after Jesus’ return.
People who think that the temple needs to be rebuilt before Jesus comes may have a surprise waiting for them. I am of the opinion that the temple the LORD will return to is the temple that is his church, and I thought this long before a would-be prophet made the same statement.
The temple will be needed because the law will be kept: Zech 14:16 “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.” Those who attack Jerusalem, i.e. the rebellious practitioners of iniquity will be required to keep the law that was required of another group of the same definition: the children of Israel; Deut 31:26 "Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you (Israel). 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are.” Gal 3:19 “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions” 1Tim 1:9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers.
People will either keep the Old Covenant law or the New Covenant Law, they will be controlled by the spirit of God, or by an external law; there will be no vacuum in law. God will have use for a temple after he (Jesus) comes, not before.
The trouble of the disciples
Jesus spoke of the trouble the Jews would suffer, but in covering the time between the destruction of the temple until his return he certainly didn’t forget his own disciples tribulation, as in Matt 24:9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and be put to death.”
The word translated ‘tribulation’ in the New Testament is (G2347 Thlipsis), and the apostle Paul told the followers of Jesus that they would certainly have their share. And he said nothing about this being held off until the last few years before Jesus return. Here are some examples, from the KJV, of this word, and some variations, translated as tribulation, trouble or affliction, depending on the version.
- Rom 5:3 “but we glory in tribulation (thlipsis) also knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”
- 1 Thes 3:4 “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation (thlibo); even as it came to pass.”
- 2 Cor 7:4 “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation (thlipsis).”
- John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation (thlipsin): but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
- Rev 1:9 “I John who also am your brother and companion in tribulation (thlipsis) and in the kingdom….”
- Rev 2:9 “I know thy works and tribulations (thlipsin) and poverty……”
- Rev 2:10 “Fear none of the things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried and ye shall have tribulation (thlipsis) ten days: be you faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”. (Note the reference to ‘ten days’ and that it clearly isn’t ten 24 hour days as we know from history.)
- Rev 2:22 “Behold I will cast her (Jezebel) into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation (thlipsis) except they repent of their deeds.”
This last example was written to the church at Thyatira number 4 on the list; and Rev 2:9 and 10 were written to the church at Smyrna which is number 2 on the list of seven churches. If one prescribes to the (however unsupportable) theory of church eras, the time frame of these thlipsis were long before now, and it’s clear that the Lord was talking to people during their own time, however applicable some of it was and is to those coming later.
With all the references to the fact that the people of those times, and later, would suffer tribulation; why do people jump to the conclusion that the numberless multitude that comes out of tribulation, come out of that tribulation (The wrath of God is also a tribulation) that takes place in the last three and a half years before Jesus comes? (Rev 7:9) “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;”The following verse identifies who these people are, and nothing is said about a time frame for the trouble they came out of; it’s simply a presumption that the word ‘tribulation’ (thlipsis) refers to that time directly preceding Christ’s return: Rev7:13 “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? Rev7:14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation (thlipsis), and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This has been going on for nearly two thousand years.
The conclusion to this matter seems to be that the tribulation referred to in the bible is usually what the chosen people, believers and people in general during the last two millennia, have and do live through, not punishment on the world during the last plagues of Revelation. The wrath of God and the tribulation should not be mixed up.
· This will be point four: the tribulation has been here since the first churches were planted; also, the wrath of God and the tribulation are two separate issues, but are usually run together as if they were synonymous.
The Four Horsemen and the Martyrs
I have heard preachers trying to treat Revelation like a linear story. The fact is, the book of Revelation jumps around in time, and there is often nothing to indicate an exact time frame; it’s simply presumptuous to believe that the events of Revelation 7 (sealing of the 144,000) follow those of revelation 6 (the opening of the seals), or that the thing contained in the first 5 seals of Rev 6 are not dispersed throughout the last two millennia before the second coming of Christ. There is nothing to justify pushing the seals foreword to the few years preceding Jesus’ return.
Rev 12 demonstrates that the book is not chronological, but before I get to that I’d like to look at a few verses that might indicate that the end days are the last two 1000 year days as Peter describes: (2Peter 3:8) “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” If the end days have been here since the Lord was crucified, then so have the four horsemen’s plagues (the first 4 seals).
In the following, Peter is responding to bystanders misunderstanding a manifestation of the Holy Spirit to be drunkenness: (Act 2:15) “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! V16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: V17 ”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Here Peter speaks of their present time as ‘the last days’.
The apostle Paul made a similar allusion: Heb 9:26 “Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Paul calls the time of Jesus’ crucifixion as included in the ‘end of the ages’.
John also seemed to be of the same opinion : 1John 2:18 “ Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” The apostles may not have realized the enormous amount of time that was between their present time and the coming of Jesus, but that doesn’t make them wrong. Here I’ll repeat, Jesus defined a start point and an end point for the last days in Matt 24 starting with the destruction of the temple until his return.
I don’t see any reason to believe that the seals of Revelation 6 were not opened long ago save the seventh. The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) implies a long passage of time when in answer to the question: “how long oh lord until our blood is avenged?” they were told to: “wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed had been completed.” Servants of the Lord started dying at the time of Stephen as recorded in Acts 7:54-58 and haven’t stopped since. People have been dying for the Lord for the last two 1000 year days, and I think these people fit the description: Rev 7:14"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The wars, famine, pestilence and disease the human race has suffered over the last 2000 years are so horrible that it defies comprehension; and, of course, we can’t leave out religious war. The four horsemen of Rev 6 have indeed been riding. Everyone knows that a third or more of Europe fell to the Black Death during the middle ages; India and China have regularly lost large percentages of their population; in 1344-45 a famine was so extreme that royalty were among those starving, this was repeated in 1629, 1685-88 and1789; in 1887-79 shaanxi province in China suffered a famine which was responsible for the loss of a third of it’s population, and again in 1897-1910 out of a population of 8.5 million, over 2 million more died (The great warming Brian Fagan); some 60 million died in World War 2; 10 to 20 million died of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, and these are just the more noted cases.
The accumulated tribulation (thlipsis) of the world over twenty centuries could barely be compared to whatever one could condense into 3.5 years in terms of human suffering. The slow attrition bore through a lifetime of helplessness and despair, living under the boots of tyrants, as has been a common condition of the average citizen of the world, is a horror worthy of the name “Great Tribulation.” I should like to again point out that the tribulation that’s come on the believers, along with the general population, and the wrath of God on those who attack Judah are not the same subject.
· Point five will be The last two millenniums have been the last days
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom.