The Great Tribulation

INDEX:
* The Warning to Israel
* Difficult Time, Birth Pains, or Tribulation?
* When Will this 'Time of Difficulty' Begin?
* The Time of the Fulfillment of Daniel 11, 12
* What of the Resurrections and 'Age-long Life?'
* Are We Now in the Great Time of Difficulty?
* Parallels to Our Day
* Is the 'Great Time of Difficulty' to be Global?
* EliJah Will Come First
* Should We Look Forward to the Great Time of Difficulty?
* So, What Must We Do?

The Warning to Israel

It is in the Bible book of Deuteronomy that we read the first prophecy about a difficult time that would come upon the nation of Israel should they ever leave the Laws and Sacred Agreement with their God Jehovah. For they were warned (at Deuteronomy 28:53-57):
'Then you will eat the fruit of your bodiesÉ the flesh of all the sons and daughters that He has given to you. For your enemy will bring a great time of stress and difficulty upon you. And even those who are kind and gentle among you will look in an evil way at their brothers, their loved women, and any remaining children, and they won't offer them any of the flesh of the children that they eat, because that would leave nothing left for themselves. That's how your enemies will pressure you and make life difficult for you in all of your cities. Then, even the tender, gentle women among you – those who have never searched the ground for delicacies – will look at their loved husbands, sons, and daughters in an evil way. For they will eat the newborn that come from between their legs secretly in their [hunger]. Yes, that's how your enemies will make life difficult for you in your cities.'

And thereafter, in the book of Daniel, we read even more of how this prophecy that was first given in the Law would be fulfilled. For again we read of such a period after the 'king of the north' overruns the 'king of the south,' and what we have rendered in this Bible as a time of difficulty (a tribulation) was to come upon JeruSalem and its people. For Daniel 12:1-3 says:

'And in that very same hour,
The Highest Messenger, MichaEl, will come
(The one who keeps watch on the sons of your people),
And a difficult time will arrive
Such as has never happened before
And will never happen again
.

'At that time, your people will be saved
(Those whose [names] have been written in the scroll),
And many who are sleeping in graves will arise,
Some to life through the ages,
And others to disgrace and ages of shame.

'Then, those who understand what I'm saying
Will shine like lights in the skies.
And the many who prove to be righteous
Will shine like the stars through the ages. '

This prophecy in Daniel is particularly important, because these appear to be the words that Jesus was quoting when he foretold the signs of his coming at Matthew 24:21, 22. For notice that he said there: 'Then there will come a difficult time such as hasn't happened from the beginning of the world until now, nor should ever happen again. And if those days hadn't been shortened, no one at all would be savedÉ but for the sake of the elected, those days will be shortened.'

Difficult Time, Birth Pains, or Tribulation?

The Greek words that that we have translated as the great time of difficulty (at Matthew 24:21) are tas thlipsis megale (pronounced: tahs thel-eep-sees meg-ah-leh).

Although the word thlipsis is used several times in the Bible, it is difficult to find an equivalent word in common American English to translate it. What it implies is a painful, difficult time, and it was used to describe a woman's childbirth labor. Tribulation and travail are nice old English words that describe the meaning fairly accurately, but they aren't the types of words you would read in a newspaper today, so we have used a more common word (difficulty) to translate it.

When Will this 'Time of Difficulty' Begin?

When did (or will) this great time of difficulty that Jesus prophesied begin? There are many theories and doctrines, but notice that it was to begin immediately after the thing described at Matthew 24:15, 16 happened, 'When you see the disgusting destroyer standing in the Holy Place.'

We know that the 'disgusting destroyer' was found to be 'standing in the Holy Place' (God's Temple) when the armies of Rome first camped around JeruSalem in the year 66-CE. For shortly thereafter, at the temporary withdrawal of the Roman armies, history tells us that Christians followed the advice that Jesus had given to them some thirty-three years earlier (found at Matthew 24:16), to get out of JeruSalem and hide in the mountains. So this appears to be the time when the 'great time of difficulty' started for JeruSalem; because thereafter, the Roman armies returned and built a fence of pointed stakes around the city, which resulted in massive starvation, because there was no way to get food. In fact, the records show that this period was so difficult for the people of JeruSalem that some did in fact eat their own children! Then in 70-CE when the city fell, tens of thousands were killed and the rest were carried off to be sold as slaves, after which the city was sacked and totally burned.

So from this, we must assume that this difficult time upon JeruSalem began sometime around 66-CE and ran to 70-CE. However, did the foretold period start with Rome's first assault on JeruSalem (in 66-CE), or when their army returned some two years later (68-CE)? Well, according to Jesus, it was to start when they first entered (came and attacked) the Holy Place; for that was to be the sign that his followers were to head for the mountains, and this happened in 66-CE.

Notice what else Daniel was told about this period (at Daniel 12:11, 12):
'From the time the disgusting destroyer arrives
And the sacrificing comes to an end,
Is a thousand, two hundred, and ninety days.
And all of those will be blest,
Who hang on to the end
Of a thousand, three hundred, and thirty-five days.'

Clearly, this prophecy in Daniel is saying that from the time of the coming of the disgusting destroyer (Rome) until the time when the daily sacrifices would end (when the Temple would be destroyed) was to be three-and-a-half yearsÉ which is approximately (if not exactly) the same time as from Rome's first attack on the city to its final destruction (66 to 70-CE).

The Time of the Fulfillment of Daniel 11, 12

However, despite the fact that the prophecy in Daniel 12 speaks of the same event in the very same words as did Jesus (at Matthew 24:15), and that it seems to have worked out over the exact 3-1/2 years that the messenger of God spoke of to Daniel, many have trouble agreeing that:
1. The 'difficult time' was the 3-1/2 year period that came upon JeruSalem (they believe that Daniel was speaking of some still-future date)
2.The prophecy in Daniel has anything to do with the destruction of JeruSalem, because most apply these words (about the attack of 'the king of the north' upon the 'king of the south,' etc.) to events in modern times. So, let's take a closer look at the things that are described in the Bible book of Daniel.

Who was the king of the north? Notice what we are told (at Daniel 11:2-6):

'{Look!} In Persia, three kings will arise,
Then a fourth will come who'll be richer (Artaxerxes II of Persia).
And after he gains all his wealth,
He will attack the kingdoms of Greece.

'Then [from Greece], a mighty king will arise (Alexander the Great)
Who will gain a vast kingdom
And do whatever he wishes.

'But after his kingdom's established,
It'll be divided and broken
Toward the four winds of the skies.
And thereafter, it will no longer be
As strong as it was during his rule.
For his kingdom will then be plucked up
And divided among the outsiders (Alexander's four generals).

'Then the king in the south (Alexander IV of Macedon) will grow mighty,
But another of these rulers will grow stronger (Egypt under the Ptolemies)
And he'll use the authority he's given
To rule a kingdom that's vast.

'However, after his time,
They will all become allies;
And the daughter of Egypt's king (Cleopatra?)
Will go to the king in the north (Julius Caesar)
And she will make treaties with him.
But his arm won't be strong and his seed won't survive.'

Here we can clearly see that the prophecy of Daniel 11 is about wars between Egypt and Rome. And it's late into this prophecy (verses 28-32) that we read of 'the disgusting destroyer' coming against the city of JeruSalem. For there we read:

'Then, when he goes back to his land,
He will return with much plunder
And with his heart set against the Holy Sacred Agreement.

'And when he returns to [his] land,
He'll invade the south once againÉ
But it won't be the same as the first.

'Then, [ships] of Cyprus will attack him
And [teach him] that he must be humble;
But he'll return and show his rage once again
Against the Holy Sacred Agreement.

'He'll attack all those who've supported
The Holy Sacred Agreement,
Then arise and profane the great Holy Place,
And the daily sacrifices will come to an end.

He will bring the disgusting destroyer
Against all those who are breaking the Law
And disregarding the Sacred Agreement. '

So it is clear that this prophecy is speaking of the destruction of the city of JeruSalem and its Temple. But then, just a few verses away (verse 40) it goes on to say:

'Then, in the time of the end,
He'll lock horns with the king of the southÉ
He'll gather many chariots, horsemen, and ships,
And enter the land of the king of the southÉ
He'll conquer it and pass through it.
'

So, though this prophecy seems to be speaking of the destruction of JeruSalem and the Temple there; over the past 100 years or so, many have been teaching that it suddenly jumps forward a couple of thousand years to 'the time of the end' (our day). For, preachers and religious groups have been saying that Daniel 11:40 is speaking of modern-day western nations (particularly the United States and Great Britain) being overrun by eastern nations (particularly Russia), not northern and southern kingdoms. But notice that in verse 42, Egypt is still identified as the king of the south who is conquered. For we read:
'He'll stretch his hand out over the earth,
And the land of Egypt will not be saved.'

So, while we do believe that the prophecy of Daniel 11, 12 will have a greater fulfillment in our day, it seems clear that the entire period from the attack of the disgusting destroyer to the destruction of JeruSalem that is described at Daniel 12:11 is talking about events that happened in the First Century CE.

What of the Resurrections and 'Age-long Life?'

'But,' you may say, 'what of the prophecies in Daniel 12:1-3 that speak of people being resurrected and receiving age-long life at that time? Aren't those words referring to a future time that comes after the Battle of Armageddon?'

Though these words will surely come true in a greater, future fulfillment, understand that they were also fulfilled back in the First Century, because people were in fact resurrected by at least Jesus, Peter, and Paul. And the promise that Jesus gave to the people of that time was (as he said at John 3:16), 'This is how [much] The God loved the world: He gave His one-and-only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be destroyed, but have age-long life.' And Jesus said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus (as recorded at John 11:25, 26): 'I am the resurrection and the life; so whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live. And all the living who believe in me won't remain dead through the age. Do you believe this?'

As you can see, Jesus was saying that the gift of age-long life was to become possible for mankind after his death, because he would open the way for it by giving his perfect life as a ransom.

For more information, please see the linked document, 'Does the Bible Promise Everlasting Life?'

Are We Now in 'the Great Time of Difficulty?'

Yet, despite all the above, a few have claimed that the great time of difficulty started back in the time of Adam's sin in the garden. We have trouble with such a conclusion, for the prophecy of Daniel clearly shows that the difficult time was to start with an attack on JeruSalem. And Jesus spoke of that time as still future in his words at Matthew 24:21, 22.

Also, some have been teaching that although the great time of difficulty began in 66-CE, it has kept running down until our day. However, the prophecy in Daniel 12 indicated that it was to last just three-and-a-half years. And since that was truly a horrific time for the Jews, we couldn't say that the earth has been enduring anything like it since 70-CE. Rather, the prophecies indicate that this time of difficulty started in 66-CE and lasted for three-and-a-half years in its first fulfillment.

Yet it appears as though there may be another three-and-a-half year period of great difficulty which is yet to come, when that which was pictured by the people of JeruSalem (unfaithful people who claim to be in a Sacred Agreement with God) will meet their destruction at the hands of a modern 'king of the north.'

Parallels to Our Day

So, what parallels will we see if and when the 'great time of difficulty' comes in the future? Well, notice that what happened to JeruSalem was the (God-inspired) action of a great worldly army against an unfaithful religious people, or, those who have left 'the Holy Sacred Agreement.'

Revelation the Eighteenth Chapter speaks of a similar event when describing a symbolic woman called 'the Great Babylon,' who is to be destroyed by armies of 'the Beasts.' And it could be that this prophecy in Revelation is foretelling a war that is to come upon unfaithful 'Christians' by worldly governments. If so, this may also bring an exceedingly difficult time upon those who (like the people in JeruSalem) choose to remain unfaithful.

Is this 'great time of difficulty' the same thing as 'the Battle of Armageddon?' No, for notice that in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, it takes place just before Jesus' coming (for more information about the Greek word translated here as coming, see the linked document, Coming, Presence, or Nearness?). Because we read (at Matthew 24:29):
'Then immediately after that difficult time;
The sun will grow dark,
The moon won't give out its light,
The stars will fall from the skies,
And the powers of the heavens will be shaken.'

And in verse 30, Jesus went on to say, 'Then the Son of Man's sign will appear in the skies, and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky with great glory and might.'

So, the Battle of Armageddon will likely begin shortly after Jesus arrives and 'the sign of the Son of Man' appears in the sky.

Notice that we read of a huge crowd of people that survives this 'great time of difficulty' at Revelation 7:9, 10, which says: 'After all this, I saw a crowd so large that nobody could count them. They came from all countries, nationalities, ethnic groups, and languages, and they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were all wearing white robes, they carried palm branches in their hands, and they were shouting, We owe our salvation to our God who is sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb.' Then verse 14 goes on to tell us: 'These are the ones that have come out of the great time of difficulty.'

So according to these verses, the faithful will escape the 'great time of difficulty' by fleeing the faithless religious institutions that will thereafter be destroyed by worldly armies. And it's following this destruction that the Battle of Armageddon begins, for it appears as though those kings and their armies will then attack the faithful servants of God who came out of the great time of difficulty.

Is the 'Great Time of Difficulty' to be Global?

That's a good question, for it may not be a global thingÉ even upon 'apostate' Christians. We say this because the great time of difficulty of 66 to 70-CE didn't come upon all IsraEl, just on their center of worship, JeruSalem. That's why Jesus warned his faithful disciples living in JeruSalem (at Matthew 24;15, 16): 'So when you see the disgusting destroyer (that was spoken of through Daniel the Prophet) standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand), those in Judea should flee to the mountains.'

In other words; they should get out of JeruSalem (flee to the nearby mountains), where they wouldn't be subjected to the horrors of the last days on that city. So perhaps the 'tribulation' will only come upon apostate religious centersÉ time will tell!

EliJah Will Come First

Also (and we don't wish to be dogmatic), the role that John the Baptist played in turning the hearts of the people of Judea back to God and preparing the way for the coming of Jesus, seems very prophetic. For we read at Matthew 3:1-3: 'It was in those days that John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judea, saying, 'Repent, for the Kingdom of the heavens draws near. He's the one of whom the Prophet IsaiAh spoke in the words:
A voice calls out in the desert:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
Before him, straighten the roads!
'

And after Jesus' transfiguration, notice this conversation between him and his Apostles (as found at Matthew 17:10, 11): 'Then these disciples asked him, Why do the Scribes say that EliJah must come first? In reply, he said, EliJah does indeed come and he restores everything. However, I tell you that EliJah has already come and they didn't recognize him, so they did whatever they wanted to him.'

As you can see, Jesus started out by describing the coming of EliJah as though it was future, then he spoke of his coming (symbolically by John) in the past tense. So it seems as though the coming of John and EliJah to prepare the way for the Lord would also see a fulfillment in some future day. Notice that we are told at Luke 3:3 that John 'traveled throughout all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.' So John's message for God's covenant people was that they must turn from their sinful waysÉ and isn't this the message that is really needed today?

Should We Look Forward to the Great Time of Difficulty?

Almost all honest-hearted Christians do look forward to the day when all unrighteousness, suffering, and death will end. But we should also remember the warning that was given by the Prophet Amos at Amos 5:18:

'Woe to those who wish for the Day of the Lord;
For, after they ask what the Lord's Day will bring,
They'll find that it only brings darkness, not light!
'

So, the great time of difficulty will be very hard for all to endure, and that's why Jesus said (at Matthew 24:22): 'And if those days weren't cut short, no one would be saved.'

So, What Must We Do?

It would be presumptuous for anyone to try to tell us exactly what we must do in order to survive the great time of difficulty, because no one can be sure of what the exact circumstances will be then. Should we all abandon our religions? We don't know. Is there a faithful religion that we can run to that will provide us a safe haven? We can't tell you for sure, for none really qualify as His true servants today. All we can tell you is what was true of those in the past who survived the destructions of JeruSalem. For from the prophecies, we can see that:
á The survivors were all in a covenant relationship with God
á They treated others fairly and honestly
á They tried hard to obey God's Laws
á They were not involved in the worship of images or idols
á They loved their families
á They were faithful to their mates
á They loved God and His Son.

We know that in the case of the Christians in JeruSalem; they were told to leave the city (the center of unfaithful religion) and to run to the mountains. Could fleeing to the mountains (since mountains are used to picture governments in the Bible) also mean that we should look to worldly governments for help? Well, Jeremiah urged Jews to leave the city of JeruSalem and to flee to the Babylonians to survive. But obviously, trusting in governments and giving them our support is what will lead to our destruction at Armageddon, for the Bible tells us that those who have the mark of the beast will be thrown into the lake of fire.

So, what must we do? We'll just have to wait, keep praying, keep maintaining our faith, and keep searching, knocking, and askingÉ and we must remember that God will never destroy the righteous and meek.

Use your browser BACK button to return to the text you were reading

Home Page