Although there are related references elsewhere in the Scriptures, this phrase, ek tes thlipseos tes megales, “out of the tribulation the great” appears only in Rev 7:14. It is of value to note that the noun thilpsesos, “tribulation,” and the adjective megales, “great,” are preceded by a definite article. Generally, following a preposition, a definite article is not required to make the noun definitive; therefore this construction refers to a particular tribulation already well known to the readers. The word “tribulation” means “to press,” a “pressing together” or “squeezing,” as of grapes, or used figuratively, a distress or tribulation. Throughout the New Testament the word, which occurs fifty-four times, is translated variously as “tribulation,” “affliction,” “anguish,” “trouble,” “burden.” It is used to describe the state of:
- Those pressed by want and poverty (2 Cor 8:13 ; Phil 4:14).
- A woman in child-birth (John 16:21)
- Afflictions which the Lord Jesus had to undergo (Col 1:24)
- Anxiety, burden of heart (2 Cor 2:4)
- A period of tribulation out of which a great multitude will be saved (Rev 7:14).
Many terms appear throughout Scripture that denote the character, define the cause, and describe the course of this period. It is clearly designated as the “Day of the Lord” (Amos 5:18). None will escape His eye that would try, or evade His hand that would threaten, or exhaust His heart that would trust Him in their distress. Perhaps the period is best known for its identifying term as expressed by Jeremiah: “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7). This clearly precludes any concept of the time as being either applicable to or even associated with the saints of this present dispensation. It relates exclusively to Israel and the nations of the day that exist when it bursts upon the world. Two other terms appear in Revelation that are expressive of the course the time will take, namely “the great day of His wrath has come”(6:17), and “The wrath of God the Almighty” (19:15). Significantly, these two important terms embrace the full reach of the teaching of John, by the Holy Spirit, regarding the Tribulation. We judge that from chapter 6 right through to chapter 19 the intervening passages map out the complete course of the Tribulation. If we wish to grasp the full comprehensive nature of this solemn period of judgment, the designation given by the Lord in His address to the church in Philadelphia supplies adequate help. It is described as “the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world” (Rev 3: 10 JND).
The chronological measurement is irrefutable. The Lord determined seventy-weeks when speaking of His dealings with Israel (Dan 9:24). Most will know that these are weeks of years and not days. It is important to note that they are divided into three categories, namely seven weeks (of years) until the walls were built about Jerusalem (See Nehemiah), sixty-two weeks until Messiah was cut off, which gives us sixty-nine and when subtracted from seventy leaves one week (of years). This week is divided into two equal parts, variously referred to as forty-two months, twelve hundred and sixty days, or time, times, and half a time. Clearly there is an unmentioned and an unseen gap, which in terms of prophetic time is not at all an unusual phenomenon in Old Testament prophecy. Several examples can be cited: See Isaiah 9:6 where the first part of this prophecy was fulfilled twenty centuries ago with the incoming of the Lord Jesus yet the next part, “And the government shall be upon His shoulders,” is something still future. Turn to Zechariah 9:9-10 where the Messianic King is presented riding upon an ass, which was fulfilled in the days of His flesh, but, “He shall speak peace unto the heathen……” awaits fulfillment. Again, the more familiar example is attested by the Lord Himself when He opened the book and read from Isaiah 61:1-2. But note where and when He closed the book. As we often observe, He stopped at a comma. If this vital action is missed and ignored, then the chronology of Old Testament prophecy is an insoluble enigma.
A leading question on the duration of the Great Tribulation arises from the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24:22-23, when He says, “except those days be shortened…” Will the period, described as the Seventieth Week, be shortened? The answer is, “No.” What will be shortened are the light periods. Note what the fourth angel will do; he will pour out his vial on the sun and men will be scorched (Rev 16:8, 9). The misery will be unspeakable and indescribably severe on men. But the question turns to, “How?” The divinely revealed means is found in Isaiah 13:13. This moving would bring the earth nearer the sun, thus reducing the daylight period.
There will be cosmic cataclysms of such a horrendous nature as to place them beyond human comprehension. They will be composed of seven seal judgments, seven trumpet judgments, and seven vial judgments. These will not necessarily be concurrent in development, nor will they be exactly consecutive. When looking through a telescope, one can look as far as one can see through the first adjustment, then move on to the second, then to the third. This provides us with a simple parallel, for so it is with these judgments, we are looking in the same direction but seeing farther, and that with added detail with each adjustment. Each one of the outpourings of divine judgment is a further manifestation of the fierceness of divine wrath.
When the first seal is broken, the Beast makes a hurried dash to acquire world dominion, without of course, any regard for human life or liberty (Rev 6:2). Resulting from this, peace is taken from the earth (Rev 6:4), famine eventuates (Rev 6:6), then Death and Hell hold sovereign sway (Rev 6:8). Undoubtedly it will be a time of human terror, but it will also be a time of divine wrath (Rev 6:17). The devastation will increase with astounding intensity, and the sin-sick earth will be draped in judgments hitherto unknown.
Every possible passage in the Scriptures that deals at length with the tribulation confirms beyond any doubt that deliverance will ultimately come to Israel and that in the Person of their long-awaited Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul states it clearly, “And so all Israel shall be saved ” (Rom11:26). There is not room within the breadth of this article to encompass many more such affirmative statements on Israel’s ultimate deliverance. But here are some for consideration, which substantiate this claim. It is written, “Her sun is gone down while it was yet day” (Jer 15:9). Certainly it has been inconceivably dark and disappointing for Jacob’s descendants ever since, and will be until that day when, as Jehovah declared, “Thy sun will no more go down” (Isa 60:20). When that day dawns then Israel will have “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa 61:3). The prophet goes on to state, “The Gentiles shall see thy righteousness and all kings thy glory … thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal crown in the hand of thy God” (Isa 62:2,3). “They shall call on My Name,” saith the Lord, “and I will say, It is My People; and they shall say, The Lord is my God ” (Zech13:9).
Amillennialists see no tribulation. One such blind adherent told the writer, years ago, that the Tribulation commenced when Cain slew Abel. There we leave them and trust those that are given to such gross misinterpretation of prophetic issues will bow to the plain revelation of God’s Word. Then there are some who advance that the Church will go through one-half of the Tribulation. Those who thus interpret the truth in this way are governed by a misunderstanding of the Epistles of Paul. They take the earlier writings of Paul to be governed by the Nation of Israel accepting the King and the Kingdom. This means that any reference to the coming of the Lord Jesus in 1 Thessalonians, for example, does not apply today. Having adopted this approach, the only point at which they can have the Church taken to heaven is in the middle of the tribulation, and they see this in the two witnesses of Revelation 12. This is a totally unfounded concept, which must be fully dispensed to the rubbish heap of unfounded doctrine. Finally, the greatest difficulty surrounding this subject of the Tribulation is faced by those who advance that the Church will go through the Tribulation. A detailed article is required if this is to be answered in full. But enough can be said, though tersely. Any reader of Ephesians 1 & 3 will know the distinctiveness of the Church in the purpose of God, which rules out any possible existence on earth when God takes up the Nation of Israel and deals with it in terms of the Kingdom.
We affirm that the Scriptures teach:
- that the Church is separate and distinct from Israel in position, privilege, and prospect;
- that the time period of God’s dealings with it does not coincide with nor overlap the period of His dealings with Israel.
Therefore, it follows without controversy that we cannot exegete the Church either into Daniel’s 69th week past or into Daniel’s 70th week future. To wander into the inapplicable cannot but precipitate confusion.