The Tribulation

THE TRIBULATION – The Hebrew word that is commonly translated as Tribulation literally means narrow or compressed. The Greek word that is translated as Tribulation also conveys the idea of severe constriction, narrowing, or pressing together. In contrast to the age of Grace, which has extended for nearly 2000 years, the Tribulation (also called the age of Wrath) is compressed into seven years. Similar notions underlie the Latin word which literally means a threshing sledge used to crush and separate grain. Separating the wheat from the chaff will entail a crushing sequence of events during the Tribulation. A figurative understanding of these terms would be affliction, distress, or tribulation. (1)

The primary questions surrounding the Tribulation are its timing in relation to the Rapture and Parousia, whether believers will be subjected to it, the distinction between Tribulation and Great Tribulation, its duration, and why the Tribulation is necessary.

Tribulation of Believers – The Bible does say that believers will experience tribulation and it generally refers to the suffering and anguish of the people of God. When believers go through tribulation, it has several distinguishing characteristics.

Patterned After Christ – The tribulations suffered by Christ will be the pattern of sufferings that believers can expect at times themselves. As tribulation was inevitable and expected in the messianic ministry of Jesus, so tribulation will be present among His followers (Matthew 13:21; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:35; 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Revelation 1:9).

Participating with Christ – The tribulations of believers are, in a sense, a participation in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24; 2 Corinthians. 1:5; 4:10; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:13).

Transforming into Christlikeness – The tribulation of believers, among other things, facilitates their transformation into the likeness of Christ (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:8–12, 16).

Ministering for Christ – Tribulation also teaches Christ’s followers to give comfort and encouragement to others facing similar situations, thus enabling those suffering to persevere and persist in their own tribulations (2 Corinthians 1:4; 4:10; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). They in turn can help others and so on. (2)

The Great Tribulation – The expression “great tribulation” refers to a time of “great distress,” and “suffer[ing] intensely” that will usher in the second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 2:22). Jesus warned that the Great Tribulation will be a time of such “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world” that its calamities will nearly decimate all life (Matthew 24:15–22). Jesus’ words mirror Daniel 12:1, “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time.” (3) Some see the entire seven-year period as the Great tribulation (pre-tribulation viewpoint), while others see only the second half of the seven years as the Great Tribulation (mid-tribulation viewpoint).

Many distinguish the Tribulation that believers are expected to undergo from the Great Tribulation. Clearly one is a general tribulation that has and will continue throughout Church history. The other, just as clearly, is a more specific tribulation limited to a specific time and duration. This is usually not a matter for debate. The great debate is whether Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath,” means that believers will not go through the Great Tribulation or that they will protected during the Great Tribulation. Since the Great Tribulation is generally understood as an outpouring of God’s wrath on non-believers, many contend that Christians will be Raptured or removed beforehand (pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation rapture).

Length of Tribulation – The Tribulation will begin when the man of sin (another name for the anti-Christ, see tomorrow’s musing), who many believe will be the leader of some federation of nations, signs a treaty with the Jewish people (Daniel 9:27). The period that it covers is also believed by many to be the seventieth week of Daniel’s great prophecy of the “seventy sevens” recorded in Daniel 9:24–27. Half of the time is generally understood to be 42 months, 1,260 days (Revelation 11:2–3), or three and a half years (based on a 30-day month). At the mid-point of the Tribulation the anti-Christ is expected to break his treaty with Israel, cease being Israel’s protector, demand to be worshiped himself (2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Daniel 9:27), and seek to conquer and rule the entire world (not merely his confederation). While both the first and second part of the Tribulation will be characterized by intense persecution and judgment, (4) the second half will be much more severe. This leads some to conclude that only the second half of this period is the “Great” Tribulation, and that Christians will be Raptured at the mid-point, before the “Great” Tribulation (mid-tribulation Rapture).

Characteristics of Tribulation – Two characteristics distinguish the Tribulation from all other times of persecution that the world has experienced up to that point.

Scope – This period of Tribulation will be worldwide in its scope, not localized (Revelation 3:10). Only the great flood in the days of Noah was worldwide in its scope. As terrible as the persecutions that people have experienced throughout history since then, and are still experiencing in parts of the world today, they are not necessarily an indication that the Tribulation has already taken place or is beginning.

Realization – This Tribulation will be unique in that people will not only realize that the end of the world is near but they will act like it is coming. In one of the early judgments, men will hide themselves in the dens and caves of the mountains and say, “fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). Throughout history, men have often talked as if the end were near. But people did not necessarily act as if they really believed that the end was really at hand. When the Tribulation finally comes, men will prefer death to life, because the end that they envision will be so horrific that they view death as an escape. (5)

Reason for Tribulation – One might wonder why there will be a period of Tribulation before Christ returns? Why would Jesus not simply return to earth, judge the people and begin eternity? At least two, perhaps three, reasons have been offered in answer to this question.

Justice – The wickedness of man must be punished. Even though it may seem like God is not doing enough about evil now, someday He will act openly against it.

Confession – Men and women must by one means or another acknowledge that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This may be done voluntarily beforehand by coming to Christ in faith and receiving salvation. If not before, one will have to bow later. For “it is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God (Romans 14:11)’.” But then it will be too late to receive salvation. (6)

Final Manifestation of Grace – This period of God’s wrath could be God’s final effort to urge mankind to repentance and salvation that they rejected during the age of grace (Figure 1.4). Could it be that many more (“a great multitude”) will accept Christ during the Great Tribulation than during the Church Age (“only a few find it”)? Will those who are alive and “reach out” for Christ and “find Him” during the Great Tribulation not have done so if they had lived during a different time? Could that be why God “determined” that this specific time is “set for them?” In essence, could God’s wrath during the Great Tribulation be a further manifestation of His abundant grace, because God is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)?”

Rev 1.4

To help get a handle on this, consider Figure 1.5. There are more people alive today (more than 7 billion) than have ever been alive at any other time in history. According to the lower estimates of the United States Census Bureau, the entire world population around the time of Christ’s birth (1 AD) was approximately 170 million and did not reach 1 billion until the early 1800’s. A United Nations’ study suggests that the total world population was approximately 500 million in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America.

Rev 1.5

For the more than 7 billion people alive today, the “times set for them” are obviously now. But why now for them? Perhaps because this is a time in history where the Gospel is accessible by more people and translated into more languages than it has ever been before. “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” But is it working?

A Pew Forum survey on Religion and Public Life (using 2010 data), estimated that 84 percent of the world’s inhabitants (estimated at 6.9 billion at that time) self-identified with an established “religion” of some kind. The “unaffiliated” category covered all those who professed no religion, including atheists, agnostics, and people with spiritual beliefs but with no link to any established faith. At sixteen percent of the world’s population it was the third largest category in the survey, trailing only Christianity (32 percent) and Islam (twenty-three percent). (8)

According to the Barna Group, while 80 percent of the U.S. population claim they are Christian, only 45 percent identify as “Born Again” Christians (a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, having confessed their sins and accepted Christ as Savior). Extrapolating these findings (which is admittedly highly unscientific) to the Pew survey above, only fourteen percent of the world’s population would be characterized as “Born Again.” (9) Yet even among these, the Scriptures state that “many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord,’… then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.’” So, “many” within the fourteen percent may not be saved either. This certainly substantiates Christ’s claim that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,” at least in the Church Age or the Age of Grace. What this means is that if the Tribulation was to begin today, more than 6 billion would be facing God’s wrath. That is the bad news. The good news is that a “great multitude that no one could count” will “come out of the great tribulation” having “washed their robes … ma[king] them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This further underscores the fact that the outpouring of God’s wrath during the Great Tribulation just could be a further manifestation of His abundant grace. Wrath and grace intersected once before at the cross, when Christ bore God’s wrath on Himself in order to extend God’s Grace to us. During the Tribulation, God’s grace will bear down directly on mankind as His final invitation to accept His offer of grace.

Next Up – The Anti-Christ.

  1. Schemm, P. (2003). Rapture. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1366). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  2. Norman, S. (2003). Tribulation. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1624). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  3. Norman, S. (2003). Tribulation. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1624). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  4. Ryrie, C. C. (1972). A survey of Bible doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press.
  5. Ryrie, C. C. (1972). A survey of Bible doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press.
  6. Ryrie, C. C. (1972). A survey of Bible doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press.
  7. http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/imagesp=world+popuation+growth&fr=mcafee&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fone-simple-\idea.com%2FWorldPopulationGrowth2025.jpg#id=74&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fresources1.news.com.au%2Fimages%2F2011%2F10%2F26%2F1226177%2F680601-111027-n-population-growth.jpg&action=click
  8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/unaffiliated-third-largest-religious-group-after-christians-muslims_n_2323664.html
  9. http://wordunplugged.com/forty-five-percent-born-again/

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