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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age > Great Tribulation > Fact of the Great Tribulation  


The Greek word translated “tribulation” in Matthew 24:21, 29 and in Revelation 7:14 is thlipsis, a word meaning “a pressure or pressing,” “affliction,” “anguish” or “distress.” It speaks of being squeezed, hemmed in, or pressed into a narrow place, hence the idea of suffering or persecution.

In Revelation 7:14 the order of the Greek is emphatic, literally it is: “the tribulation, the great one,” with the definite article used twice. In the speech of Stephen immediately prior to his death is seen something of the nature of the suffering inherent in thlipsis. Stephen made reference to the seven years of famine that were visited upon the Middle East during the time of Jacob and Joseph; he said: “Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction (thlipsis), and our fathers could find no food” (Acts 7:11). Because of the scarcity of food Jacob and his family eventually moved to Egypt, but before the move and precipitating the move was their sense of anguish; the family felt pressed into a narrow place or hemmed in—there was distress and affliction; there was tribulation.

The word is used in at least four ways in the New Testament. One, the word speaks of the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24 speaks of “Christ’s afflictions”); two, the word is used of the afflictions of believers (see verses below); and three, the word speaks of God’s judgment in the form of tribulation (II Thess. 1:6); and four, the word speaks of the affliction at the end-time (Matt. 24: 21, 29; Rev. 7:14).

An incorrect thinking regarding tribulation needs to be addressed. The idea of tribulation is not inconsistent with a commitment to Christ; in fact, the Scriptures teach us that because of our commitment to Christ, we are to expect and be prepared for persecution. Suffering for Christ is one of the indications that the believer truly belongs to Christ. Believers do experience tribulation and will experience the Great Tribulation.

Dispensationalists claim that God will not allow His people to endure the Great Tribulation, but that the Church will mercifully be caught up by the Lord before that awful time via the Rapture. But, as noted above, this word is used of suffering that is the expected lot of the believer throughout the history of the Church. Note the following verses:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation (thlipsis) (Matt. 24:9);

In the world you will have tribulation (thlipsis); but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (Jo. 16:33);

We must through many tribulation (thlipsis) enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22);

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations (thlipsis), knowing that tribulation (thlipsis) produces perseverance (Rom. 5:3);

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation (thilipsis), or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword (Rom. 8:35);

Blessed be . . . the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our tribulation (thlipsis), that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble (II Cor. 1:3-4);

We sent Timothy . . . to establish and exhort you . . . that no one be moved by these afflictions (thlipsis). For you know that we are destined for this (I Thess. 3:2-3);

Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction (thilipsis) those who afflict (thilibō) you (II Thess. 1:6).

Tribulation is predicted for the believer, and it is a tribulation that is occasioned by the believer’s identification with Christ. In the midst of the tribulation, the believer is told to be of good cheer and to even glory in the tribulations. God is to be blessed because of the comfort He provides for his own during the affliction. The above verses are more than sufficient to show that tribulation is not incompatible with the life of the believer.

It should be noted that Paul in the above verse found in I Thessalonians states that the believer has been destined (see: God is Sovereign and Theistic Determinism) for affliction (thlipsis). For the believer to live in the world is for the believer to experience tribulation. And since the Church, the larger body of believers, has been the recipient of persecution throughout its history, it should not be doubted that the Church will be the recipient of persecution at the end of days.

The difference between ordinary tribulation and the end-time tribulation is the intensity and the severity of that which comes toward the end of history. “Since the beginning of the world” (Matt. 24:21), Jesus says, there has never been a time like this and never will be afterward. It will be so dreadful that unless the time is shortened all flesh will die. “But for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (v. 22). This is the tribulation of the last day; it is the Great Tribulation described in Revelation 6-19, and specifically mentioned in 7:14. It is different from all other tribulations because it is “the great” one. Various other means are used to describe this period at the end of time:

a time of distress for Jacob (Jer. 30:7; “distress” is tsarah; NKJV: “the time of Jacob’s trouble”);

desolations are decreed (Dan. 9:26);

a time of trouble (Dan. 12:1; “trouble” is tsarah);

the tribulation of those days (Matt. 24:29);

distress of nations (Lu. 21:25);

the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world (Rev. 3:10).

So the Scriptures are without misunderstanding: tribulation is a fact; believers do experience tribulation; ahead is the Great Tribulation; and believers will also experience that awful time.

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