The Study of Last Things


"For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will."
-- Jesus (Matthew 24:21)

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Revelation  6:1-8

The Great Tribulation

by WordExplain

A.  The Fact of The Tribulation:  A Definition
  1. The term "Tribulation" refers, in broad terms, to an interval of at least seven years between the Rapture of the Church (Jesus' coming to take His Bride to heaven to purify her and prepare her to reign with Him) and the Second Coming of Christ (Jesus' return to the earth to reign for 1000 years in Jerusalem as Judge and King).  

  2. In a technical sense, "The Great Tribulation" refers to the last half of the seven-year period, three and one-half years, during which Satan's false messiah, The Antichrist, rules the world, and during which God unleashes his great wrath against the evil of mankind with incredible judgments that bring about unprecedented catastrophe upon the earth.

  3. Biblical references to the Tribulation include the following:
a.  The Greek word thlipsis means simply "trouble" or "tribulation." Jesus, in Matt. 24:21 , speaks of a "great tribulation," unequaled in the past and the future!  This will be a time of unprecedented trouble for the earth.

b.  In Rev 7:13-14  one of the 24 elders identifies to the Apostle John a vast group of white-robed people (Rev. 7:9) who are martyrs and have arrived in heaven out of the great tribulation back on earth.  Literally, this elder speaks of “the tribulation – the great one!”

B.  Preparation for the Tribulation.  (When Will the Stage Be Set?)
  1. During the Church Age, God's Prophetic Clock for Israel is not ticking.  It is on hold.  That does not mean God is not working on behalf of Israel.  He is.  But no specific events prophesied in regard to Israel are now occurring.  The prophet Daniel, through an explanation given to him by the angel Gabriel (Dan. 9:20-23), in Daniel 9:24-27 predicted 70 sevens of years in regard to the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:24).  The first 69 sevens of years began with the decree of Artaxerxes in 444 B. C. "to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (Dan. 9:25).  Some Bible scholars believe that the 69 sevens of years ended on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt. 21:1-9; Luke 19:28-42), presenting himself to Israel as  "Messiah the Prince" (Dan. 9:25).  After the 69 sevens were completed, the 70th unit of seven years would not immediately begin, but some dramatic and pivotal events in Jewish history would take place.  First, the Jewish Messiah would "be cut off and have nothing" (Dan. 9:26).  Second, "the people of the prince who is to come" would "destroy the city and the sanctuary" (Dan. 9:26; see also Matt. 24:1-2; Luke 19:43-44; 21:20-24).  We know from history precisely when the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple were destroyed, and by whom.  The Romans destroyed the city and the sanctuary in 70 A. D.  The rest of Jewish history from that time up to the very present has been an interim period between the 69 units of seven years and the 70th unit of seven years.  That whole period of time was to be characterized as "even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined." (Dan. 9:26).  This has been the sad history of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel ever since, to this very day.  But the Tribulation period will not begin until the ruler of a Revived Roman Empire makes a dramatic seven-year peace treaty with Israel (Dan. 9:27).  

  2. What conditions would have to be met in order for the stage to be set for a ruler from the Revived Roman Empire to make a dramatic seven-year peace treaty with Israel?

a.  Israel would once again have to exist as a nation.  Just as Daniel predicted (9:26), Jesus, the Jewish Messiah was "cut off" by crucifixion (John 19:1-42) in A.D. 33.  Less than four decades later, the First Jewish Revolt against Rome took place in A.D. 66-73.  During this Revolt the Jewish Temple and the city of Jerusalem were both destroyed in A.D. 70, precisely as Daniel (Dan. 9:26)  and Jesus (Luke 21:23-24) predicted .  From A.D. 132-135 Bar Kochba led the Second Jewish Revolt.  There was a great slaughter of the Jews under Hadrian, and the city was razed.  Hadrian subsequently rebuilt Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina.  Jewish people were excluded from the city and from Judea.   For all practical purposes, Israel ceased to exist as a nation, and the Jewish people were dispersed world-wide (Luke 21:23-24).  Out of the ashes of history, Israel again became an independent state on May 15, 1948!  Without Israel as a nation, back in her land, the prophecy of Daniel 9:27 could not be fulfilled.  This condition has been met.

b.  There must be a revived Roman Empire.  Right now, the European Union is closer to a revived Roman Empire than any other coalition at any time since A. D. 476.  But the original Roman Empire spanned the entire Mediterranean, whereas the present EU covers only the northern Mediterranean.  My prediction is that there will be increasingly greater symbiosis between Europe and the Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa.  The member states of the European Union have, for over forty years, been making deliberate overtures to the Arabs for a variety of reasons (see Eurabia:  The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye'or, 2005, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press). Based on Biblical prophecy (Rev. 17:1-15, 18) and confirmed by current trends, I predict that Western Civilization as we know it today will cease to exist and will be, for a time, engulfed by the religion of Babylon.  This condition has not been met, but we are getting closer.

c.  Jesus must come for His Church  (The Rapture).  The absence of the Holy Spirit indwelling Christians all over the globe will remove the only brake preventing the Western World from revolting against God and jettisoning the last vestiges of Christianity and morality (2 Thess. 2:1-12).  Satan will deceive the world into following his agenda and his perverted messiah.  This condition has not been met, but nothing prevents its immediate fulfillment.  Jesus' return for the Church is imminent.  It could happen at any time.

d.  A world class ruler with incredible charisma must emerge from the Revived Roman Empire.  Daniel called him "the prince who is to come" (Dan. 9:26), and Paul called him "the man of lawlessness," "the son of destruction" (2 Thess. 2:3), and "that lawless one" (2 Thess. 2:8).  John sees him as "a beast coming up out of the sea" (Rev. 13:1).  He will successfully woo the world and will carry enough clout with both Israel and the Arab world to broker a peace deal that will appear to bring "world peace in our time."  This condition, as far as we know, has not been met.  This individual could be alive already in our day.  The world waits.

C.  The Time of the Tribulation (Its Beginning and Duration)

  1. The Start of the Tribulation (in its Non-Technical meaning): A powerful leader of a Revived Roman Empire (perhaps arising out of the present day European Union) will negotiate a solution to the Arab - Israeli conflict.  It will be a seven-year peace treaty, guaranteeing Israel her right to exist in peace.  Dan. 9:27a:  "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week ..."  In the terms of the prophecy (Dan. 9:24-26), the (Roman) "prince who is to come" will make a pact with Israel that lasts one unit of seven years.  This action on his part does two things.  (1) It will set God's prophetic clock for Israel in motion once again.  (2) It will inaugurate a short time of peace in the Middle East.  This charismatic European ruler will gain world-wide admiration for bringing peace.  (3) The peace, however, will be short-lived.  The next seven years will eventually prove to be a disaster for most Israelis, but it will be God's method of refining the nation to prepare her for the return of her Messiah (Zech. 13:8-9; Mal. 3:1-3).

  2. The Start of the Great Tribulation (in its Technical Meaning):  Technically, "The Great Tribulation" begins in the middle of the seven-year Peace Treaty.   Daniel 9:27 states, "And he [the prince that will come] will make a firm covenant with the many [Israel] for one week [seven years], but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate."  In this cryptic prophecy, a cataclysmic action changes everything for Israel.  Jesus warned, in Matt. 24: 15-16, "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), {16} then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains."  

    a.  What does this mean?  We know from history that the “Abomination that Causes Desolation” occurred in a preliminary sense when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Seleucid king, reigned from Syria over Israel from 175 to 164 B. C.  To show his utter contempt for Israel, he sacrificed a sow on the altar in the temple.  Antiochus was only the preliminary fulfillment, because Jesus, commenting 200 years later, said that there was yet to be a more complete fulfillment.

    b.  One thing that Daniel's and Jesus' warnings do is to illuminate conditions present when this prophecy is fulfilled.  Israel will be back in her land; a Jewish temple will be standing; and priests and Levites will be offering sacrifices.  That means the European ruler's treaty with Israel will have included permission to build the Jewish temple.  How on earth could that agreement possibly be made, unless the same ruler also brokered a deal with the Arabs?  Could it be that this ruler is a double dealer?  Will he, on the one hand, promise Israel peace and secure land, including the right to build its temple on the Temple Mount?  Will he, on the other hand, also quietly whisper to the Arabs a guarantee of Jewish destruction? 

    c.  The Apostle Paul referenced, I believe, the same event.  He wrote of a "man of lawlessness" being revealed.  This man would seat himself "in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God!" (2 Thess. 2:3-4).  What did Paul mean?  Apparently this sophisticated European ruler, having consolidated his power nearly world-wide in the first three-and-a-half years of the seven year peace treaty, double-crosses Israel and seats himself in the Jewish temple as God come in the flesh!  He is Satan's version of the Messiah, the Antichrist.  It might be noted that the Greek preposition anti has here, I believe a double meaning.  It means both "against" and "instead of."  So the world ruler is both against the true Messiah and he offers himself instead of the real Messiah.  It is no wonder that Jesus tells Israelis at that point to flee for their very lives.  Speed is critical (Matt. 24:16-20), "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will" (Matt. 24:21).

  3. There are a number of indicators that the last three-and-a-half years have special significance in the Jewish prophetic clock.  Based on a thirty day month in the Jewish calendar, 1260 days = 42 months = three-and-a-half years = time, times, and half a time.  This period of three-and-a-half years seems to be the time when the temporary peace of the world will be shattered, Israel will be hounded nearly off the globe, and God will, in fury, unleash Great Tribulation on the world.

a.  Dan. 7:25 says that "the saints of the Highest One" ... "will be given into his [the world ruler's] hand for a time, times, and half a time."

b.  In Dan. 12:6-7, Daniel asks, "How long will it be until the end of these wonders?"  He was told "that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed."

c.  Daniel also was told, "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. {12} "How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!" (Dan 12:11-12).

d.  The Apostle John, in his vision of the end of the world, was instructed, "Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. {2} "Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months. {3} "And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth" (Rev 11:1-3).

e.  John further states, "Then the woman [Israel] fled into the wilderness where she had^ a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days" (Rev. 12:6).

f.  John sees a dragon [Satan] who tries to persecute the woman [Israel].  "But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was^ nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent [Satan]" (Rev. 12:14).

g. John says, "There was given to him [the world ruler, the Antichrist] a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him" (Rev 13:5).

D.  Descriptions of the Tribulation
  1. Yahweh, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, calls these days "The Time of Jacob's Distress."  It is a time when men agonize as if they were women in labor!  It is a day of unprecedented distress and terror (Jeremiah 30:5-7)!

  2. Haggai says that Yahweh of Troops will utterly shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the land (Hag. 2:6)!

  3. Isaiah uses catastrophic language to describe the Great Tribulation:  Isa 24:1-6

    a.  Isaiah describes a disastrous turn of events for for the earth.  He uses words like "waste," "devastates," "distorts," "completely despoiled"  (Isa. 24:1, 3-4).

    b.  The reason for this enormous destruction on the entire earth and the death of most of its inhabitants is that the people have broken God's laws and utterly polluted His earth with their great rebellion against Him!  For this reason "a curse devours the earth," and its inhabitants "are burned, and few men are left"  (Isa. 24:5-6)!

  4. Matthew 24:4-14 seems to give signs during the first half of the 7-year period that the Great Tribulation (the last half of the seven years) is near.  Although these event happen all throughout history, they will evidently be more concentrated during this time.  Here is what Jesus says will happen:

a.  False messiahs.  Matt. 24:4-5

b.  Wars, international conflict, famines and earthquakes as the beginning of labor pains  Matt. 24:6-8

c.  The persecution of Jewish believers:  the betrayal and hatred of Jews by Jews  Matt. 24:9-10

d.  False prophets  Matt. 24:11

e.  The cooling off of love  Matt. 24:12-13

f.  The proclaiming of the good news of the Kingdom to all nations  Matt. 24:14

E. The Judgments of the Tribulation.  

Revelation 6-18 describes Jesus, the Lamb of God, breaking Seven Seals with which a Scroll has been sealed; Seven angels sounding Seven Trumpets; and Seven Angels pouring out Seven Bowls of Wrath upon the earth.  These appear to be telescoping judgments:  The Seventh Seal inaugurates the Seven Trumpets, and the Seventh Trumpet signals the beginning of the Seven Bowls of Wrath.  The reader might ask, "Why would Jesus, the Lamb of God, break Seven Seals on a scroll that brings judgment upon the earth?"  The answer is that the people of the world have rejected His prodigious sacrifice on the cross for their sins.  Since they have rejected Him, He pours out His judgment on them.  He is the only one worthy to open the Seven Seals of Judgment precisely because He is the Redeemer of mankind who has been rejected (Rev. 5:1-14).
  1. And so the Lamb breaks the first seal, and military conquest ensues (Rev. 6:1-2).

  2. The Lamb breaks the second seal:  peace flees; homicide and war ensue (Rev. 6:3-4).

  3. He breaks the third seal:  famine enters (Rev. 6:5-6).

  4. He breaks the fourth seal:  death stalks by war, famine, pestilence, and wild animals (Rev. 6:7-8).

  5. He breaks the fifth seal:  Martyrs plead with Christ to quit delaying in avenging their shed blood.  They are not denounced for lacking compassion.  They were merely told that vengeance would be delayed until the full quota of their fellow-martyrs was fulfilled (Rev. 6:9-11).

  6. He breaks the sixth seal: The earth quakes, stars fall, topography is altered, and men plead with mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath (orge) of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand" (Rev. 6:16-17)?

  7. He breaks the seventh seal: seven angels prepare to sound (Rev. 8:1-6).

  8. The first angel sounds: hail, fire and blood descend; a third of the earth and its vegetation is destroyed (Rev. 8:7).

  9. The second angel sounds:  Something like a great mountain burning with fire is thrown into the sea.  A third of the sea becomes blood, destroying a third of marine life.  A third of the ships are destroyed (along with the sailors manning them) (Rev. 8:8-9).

  10. The third angel sounds: A great star poisons a third of the earth’s fresh water and many men die (Rev. 8:10-11).

  11. The fourth angel sounds: A third of the celestial bodies are darkened (Rev. 8:12-13).

  12. The fifth angel sounds: demonic creatures are permitted to torment all unbelievers to the point where they wish for death, but are unable to die (Rev. 9:1-12).

  13. The sixth angel sounds: Demonic angels are released to kill a third of mankind.  Those spared show their true colors by failing to "repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons" . . .; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts"  (Rev. 9:13-21).

  14. The seventh angel sounds: The 24 elders fall down and worship God and thank Him because He has taken His great power and has begun to reign!  They say,  "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth"  (Rev. 11:15-19).

  15. Last, there appear seven angels, having seven last plagues, poured out from seven bowls, which complete the wrath of God (Rev. 15:1, 7).  They are told to pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath onto the earth (Rev. 16:1).  The first angel pours, and a malignant sore spreads upon worshipers of the beast (Rev. 16:2). 

  16. The second angel pours:  the sea becomes like blood and every sea creature dies (Rev. 16:3).

  17. The third angel pours and the fresh water becomes like blood.  The angel of the waters says,  "Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink.  They deserve it."   "And I heard the altar saying,  'Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments' "   (Rev. 16:4-7)

  18. The fourth angel pours upon the sun.  Men show their rebellion against God and the justice in God’s tormenting them:   "Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory"   (Rev. 16:8-9).

  19. The fifth angel pours, and the beast’s kingdom is darkened; men "gnawed their tongues because of the pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds" (Rev. 16:10-11).

  20. The sixth angel pours, and the Euphrates dries up to prepare for the kings from the east.  Three demonic spirits go out to gather the kings of the whole world  for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty at Har-Magedon. (Rev. 16:12-16).  (Two early manuscripts read "Armageddon.")

  21. The seventh angel pours:  there is an unprecedented earthquake; Jerusalem (?) is split, and the cities of the nations  fall.  God gives Babylon "the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath."   Islands and mountains disappear; hundred-pound hailstones fall from heaven upon men.   Again, men show their worthiness of judgment -- they blaspheme God because of the severity of the plague  (Rev. 16:17-21).

F. Lessons to Learn from the Tribulation
  1. Every person on earth has sinned (Rom 3:23).

  2. Every person on earth deserves the judgment of God (Rom 1:18).

  3. Out of love for us humans, God has graciously provided a way of escape from judgment by sending His Son to this earth to die for us and rise again in our place:  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  God clearly displayed His love for all men by sending Jesus Christ to die for them (Rom. 5:8)!

  4. It is the responsibility of each of us to accept humbly God's forgiveness in Jesus by trusting in Him.  When Jesus came the first time, his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did, He gave the right to become God's children (John 1:11-12)!  Jesus said,  "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24).

  5. God's grace is lovingly extended; but grace spurned is judgment earned:  "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him"  (John 3:36).

  6. "How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb 2:3a).

  7. The [Holy] Spirit and the bride [the Church] say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Rev 22:17).

WordExplain by James T. Bartsch

(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.)

The Great Tribulation

Prepared by James T. Bartsch
September, 2007, updated February 13, 2022

Published Online by WordExplain

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Updated February 13, 2022