In Christian eschatology, the great tribulation (Greek: θλίψις μεγάλη, thlipsis megalē) is a period mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet discourse as a sign that would occur in the time of the end. At Revelation 7:14, "the great tribulation" (Greek: τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης, literally, "the tribulation, the great one") is used to indicate the period spoken of by Jesus. Matthew 24: 21 and 29 uses tribulation (θλίβω) in a context denoting afflictions of those hard-pressed by siege and the calamities of war.
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 Pretribulationists 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. In this view, the Tribulation will last seven prophetic Hebrew years (lasting 360 days each) in all but the Great Tribulation will be the second half of the Tribulation period (see Matt 24:15 and Matt 24:21 showing the Great Tribulation is after the Abomination of Desolation, which marks the midpoint of the Tribulation).
In this view, this seven-year period is considered to be the final week of Daniel's Prophecy of Seventy Weeks, found in Daniel chapter 9. It is theorized that each week represents seven years, with the timetable beginning from Artaxerxes' order to rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem. After seven weeks and 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.
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 for eternity, but will be received or gathered in the air by Christ, to descend together to establish the Kingdom of God on earth at the end of the Tribulation.
In pretribulationism and midtribulationism, the rapture and the Second Coming 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.
The Catholic Church teaches that there will be a "final Passover" or last "purgatory" before the final parousia (Second Coming), in which the church will "pass through a final fire that will shake the faith of many". Generally neither the Catholic Church, nor the various Orthodox and Anglican communions and older Protestant denominations, use the term "rapture", and tend towards amillennialism. In this view, the millennium is regarded as the initial period of Christ's reign (manifested in the life of the church) that began with the Pentecost and will lead up to the messiah's eventual return, with the final outcome being a single and permanent event at the end of present time.
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).
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.
- See Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
- Vine, William E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Tribulation
- Thayer, Joseph. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, θλίβω (Tribulation)
- Tim F. LaHaye; Thomas Ice (2001). Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy. Harvest House Publishers. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-7369-0138-3.
- "1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (ESV) - "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who ..." - Biblia.com". Biblia. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church (First ed.). Doubleday (Image Books). 1994. pp. 193–194. ISBN 0-385-47967-0. Cannons #675-677
- Switzer, John. "Do Catholics believe in the Rapture?". US Catholic. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
- Preble, Peter-Michael, Fr. (July 19, 2011). "Judgement Day: and Orthodox Perspective". Huffington Post. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
- Fr. Jonathan (December 23, 2011). "Ask an Anglican: The End of the World". The Conciliar Anglican. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
- Rossing, Barbara (June 4, 2013). "End-times". Liveing Lutheran. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
- Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach. Moody Publishers (Chicago, IL, USA). Ch. 13: The Posttribulation Rapture View. pg. 240
- "ESCHATOLOGY - Different Rapture Views - Greg Rugh". Biblebb.com. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
- 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