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The Great Tribulation (Greek: θλίψις μεγάλη, thlipsis megalē) refers to tumultuous events that are described during the "signs of the times", first mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet discourse. The Great Tribulation is also referenced in the Book of Revelation.
Within the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the Tribulation is described as follows:
- And the fifth angel trumpeted, and I saw a star out of heaven fallen to the earth, and to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss.
- And he opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.
- And out of the smoke came forth locusts to the earth, and to them power was given, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
- And it was said to them that they should not harm the grass of the earth or any green thing or any tree, but men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
- And it was given them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.
- And in those days men will seek death and shall by no means find it; and they will long to die, and death flees from them.
- And the locusts were like horses prepared for war, and on their heads there were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were like faces of men.
- And they had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.
- And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots of many horses rushing into war.
- And they have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to harm men for five months.
- They have a king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon; and in Greek he has the name Apollyon.
- The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are yet coming after these things.
- And the sixth angel trumpeted, and I heard a voice out of the four horns of the golden altar which is before God
- Saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.
- And the four angels were released, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year that they might kill the third part of men.
- And the number of the armies of horsemen was two hundred million; I heard their number.
- And thus I saw the horses in the vision and those sitting on them, having breastplates of afire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions, and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone.
- By these three plagues the third part of the men were killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone proceeding out of their mouths.
- For the power of the horses is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they harm men.
- And the rest of the men, who were not killed by these plagues, still did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship the demons and the idols of gold and silver and brass and stone and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;
- And they did not repent of their murders or of their sorceries or of their fornication or of their thefts.
Views of the Tribulation
In the futurist view of Christian eschatology, the Tribulation is a relatively short period of time where everyone will experience worldwide hardships, disasters, famine, war, pain, and suffering, which will wipe out more than 75% of all life on the earth before the Second Coming takes place. Some (Pre-Tribulationists) believe that those who choose to follow God, will be Raptured before the tribulation, and thus escape it.
According to Dispensationalists who hold the futurist view, the Tribulation is thought to occur before the Second Coming of Jesus and during the End Times. Another version holds that it will last seven years in all, being the last of Daniel's prophecy of seventy weeks. This viewpoint was first made popular by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century and was recently popularized by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth. It is theorized that each week represents seven years, with the timetable beginning from Artaxerxes' order to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple). After seven plus 62 weeks, the prophecy says that the messiah will be "cut off", which is taken to correspond to the death of Christ. This is seen as creating a break of indeterminate length in the timeline, with one week remaining to be fulfilled.
This seven-year week may be further divided into two periods of 3.5 years each, from the two 3.5-year periods in Daniel's prophecy where the last seven years are divided into two 3.5-year periods, (Daniel 9:27) The time period for these beliefs is also based on other passages: in the book of Daniel, "time, times, and half a time", interpreted as "a year, two years, and half a year," and the Book of Revelation, "a thousand two hundred and threescore days" and "forty and two months" (the prophetic month averaging 30 days, hence 1260/30 = 42 months or 3.5 years). The 1290 days of Daniel 12:11, (rather than the 1260 days of Revelation 11:3), is thought to be the result of either a simple intercalary leap month adjustment, or due to further calculations related to the prophecy, or due to an intermediate stage of time that is to prepare the world for the beginning of the millennial reign.
Among futurists there are differing views about what will happen to Christians during the Tribulation:
- Pretribulationists believe that all Christians (dead and alive) will be taken bodily up to Heaven (called the Rapture) before the Tribulation begins. According to this belief, every true Christian that has ever existed throughout the course of the entire Christian era will be instantaneously transformed into a perfect resurrected body, and will thus escape the trials of the Tribulation. Those who become Christians after the rapture will live through (or perish during) the Tribulation. After the Tribulation, Christ will return to establish His Millennial Kingdom.
- Prewrath Tribulationists believe the Rapture will occur during the tribulation, halfway through or after, but before the seven bowls of the wrath of God.
- Midtribulationists believe that the Rapture will occur halfway through the Tribulation, but before the worst part of it occurs. The seven-year period is divided into halves—the "beginning of sorrows" and the "great tribulation".
- Posttribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven, but will be received or gathered by Christ into the Kingdom of God on earth at the end of the Tribulation. "Immediately after the tribulation ... then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man [Jesus] ... and he shall gather his elect" (Matthew 24:29–31; Mark 13:24–27; Luke 21:25–27). Posttribulationists argue that the seventh trumpet mentioned in Revelation is also the last trumpet mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52, and that there is a strong correlation between the events mentioned in Isaiah 27:13, Matthew 24:29-31, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16—thus creating a strong parallel, proving that the rapture occurs after the tribulation. Therefore, Posttribulationists see the rapture happening during the seventh trumpet, which would only mean that the rapture can never happen before the tribulation—according to this view. Significantly, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 states "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (the first resurrection) and Revelation 20:4-5 (after chapters 6-19 and after Satan is bound) says, "They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection!" The idea of a post-tribulation rapture can also be read into 2 Peter 3:10-13 where Christ's return is equated with the "elements being melted" and "the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up."[improper synthesis?]
In pretribulationism and midtribulationism, the Rapture and the Second Coming (or Greek, par[a]ousia) of Christ are separate events, while in post-tribulationism the two events are identical or simultaneous. Another feature of the pre- and mid-tribulation beliefs is the idea that after the Rapture, Christ will return for a third time (when also counting the first coming) to set up his kingdom on the earth.
Some, including many Roman Catholic theologians, do not believe in a "time of trouble" period as usually described by tribulationists, but rather that there will be a near utopian period led by the Antichrist.
The Waldensians claim to be the woman in the wilderness church as written in Daniel and Revelations who have fulfilled the 1260 year prophecy of the great tribulation, the Catholic Inquisition lasting 500 years having started in the 13th century, the final end of the 1260 year persecution.
Many other groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, do not believe in a Rapture at any point. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the Great Tribulation is soon to arrive. This period will see the destruction of Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot, as spoken of in Revelation. After Babylon the Great has been removed, they say, the world powers shall move against God's chosen people for a short while. This will then usher in the ending of this "world" (not the earth, but the destruction of all those who do not wish to follow God) according to their understanding of Proverbs 2:21-22. The Great Tribulation ends with the battle of Armageddon.
Some Bible commentators have reasoned that it was the tribulation that came upon Jerusalem in 70 C.E., though they also realized that the events described thereafter evidently would take place at a time that, from a human standpoint, was then distant. They reasoned that the expression “immediately after” conveyed God’s perspective of the time involved or that the certainty of what was to occur was being expressed by language that placed the events immediately before the reader. 
In the Preterist view, the Tribulation took place in the past when Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70 during the end stages of the First Jewish–Roman War, and it only affected the Jewish people rather than all mankind.
Christian preterists believe that the Tribulation was a divine judgment visited upon the Jews for their sins, including rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah. It occurred entirely in the past, around 70 AD when the armed forces of the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.
A preterist discussion of the Tribulation has its focus on the Gospels, in particular the prophetic passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, rather than on the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation. (Preterists apply much of the symbolism in the Revelation to Rome, the Cæsars, and their persecution of Christians, rather than to the Tribulation upon the Jews.)
Jesus' warning in Matthew 24:34 that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" is tied back to his similar warning to the Scribes and the Pharisees that their judgment would "come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:36), that is, during the first century rather than at a future time long after the Scribes and Pharisees had died. The destruction in 70 AD occurred within a 40-year generation from the time when Jesus gave that discourse.
The judgment on the Jewish nation was executed by the Roman legions, "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (Matthew 24:15), which Luke presented to his Gentile audience, unfamiliar with Daniel, as "armies" surrounding Jerusalem to cause its "desolation." (Luke 21:20)
Since Matthew 24 begins with Jesus visiting the Jerusalem Temple and pronouncing that "there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (vs. 3), preterists see nothing in Scripture to indicate that another Jewish temple will ever be built. The prophecies were all fulfilled on the then-existing temple that Jesus spoke about and that was subsequently destroyed within that generation.
The Historicist view applies Tribulation to the period known as "persecution of the saints" (Daniel 7, Revelation 13). This is believed by some to have been a period after the "falling away" when papal Rome came to power for 1260 years from 538 to 1798 (using the Day-year principle). They believe that the tribulation is not a future event. Matthew's reference to "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:29) as parallel to Revelation 6:12-13, having ended when the signs and wonders began in the late 18th century.
Historicists are prone to see prophecy fulfilled down through the centuries and even in today's world. Thus, instead of expecting a single Antichrist to rule the earth during a future Tribulation period, Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other Protestant Reformers saw the Antichrist as a present feature in the world of their time, fulfilled in the papacy.
The anticipation of worldwide hardships, disasters, famine, war, pain, and suffering anticipated by Christians, mainly in the Western world, is predicated on a scenario of increased distress, deprivation and misery set against a pre-existent state of relative comfort, prosperity, security and peace. However, in many parts of the world, the predominant environment meets the criteria for the "Great Tribulation" most of the time, and has done so for many centuries. Since biblical times, much of the planet's population has suffered the ravages of droughts and famines, extreme weather, plagues, chronic warring conflicts, natural disasters and unremitting poverty and disease in endlessly repeating cycles. Such a predicament continues to this day in many parts of, for example, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A theology based on the spread of an already pre-existent scenario can be criticized as denying the time-worn sufferings of the many and focusing on the chronologically brief problems of the relatively few.
- Matthew 24:1-51, Mark 13:1-37, John 16:1-33
- Revelation 2:22,7:14
- Lahaye, Timothy and Ice, Thomas. Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy. (Tim LaHaye Prophecy Library(TM)) Harvest House Publishers 2001 pp. 66–67.[clarification needed]
- The pure and primitive Christian Church, and those who would question their claims cannot show either by history or tradition that they were subscribed to the popish rituals, or bowed down before any of the idols of the Roman Church... in short, there is no other way of explaining the political, moral, and religious phenomenon, which the Vaudois (Waldenses) have continued to display from so many centuries, than by ascribing it to the manifest inter positions of Providence, which has chosen in them, the weak things of this world, to confound the things that are mighty.” Gilly, Excursions to Piedmont, p. 259.
- The Watchtower 1993 January 15 p.4 ‘Caught Away to Meet the Lord’—How?
- ARMAGEDDON A Happy Beginning
- THE LAST DAYS WHEN?
- Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach. Moody Publishers (Chicago, IL, USA). Ch. 13: The Posttribulation Rapture View. pg. 240
- Smith, Uriah, Daniel and Revelation, pp. 437–449
- The Great Tribulation: Past or Future by Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. (Kregel Publications, 1999) ISBN 0-8254-2901-3
- Four Views on the Book of Revelation by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Sam Hamstra Jr., C. Marvin Pate and Robert L. Thomas (Zondervan, 1998) ISBN 0-310-21080-1
- Great Prophecies of the Bible by Ralph Woodrow (Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1971) ISBN 0-916938-02-6
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