In Matthew 24:20-21 Jesus’ told his disciples that he would come immediately after “a great tribulation”: . . pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 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 told the disciples of His generation to flee Judea and escape the coming tribulation when they see the advancing Roman armies.
Many believe that this terrible time still lies in our future. I have met people who live in fear of this. Others hope they will be raptured away instead of facing this dreadful experience. But as I will show, this unprecedented event took place long ago:
- Jesus words are addressed to Jews, Sabbath keepers, Judeans, to flee Judea and escape this imminent tribulation. Luke (21:21) warns them to keep out of Jerusalem. They must be alert and watch for the signs Jesus indicated in order to escape (15-16) this great distress. How could this possibly apply to us?
- Jesus’ warning is to the generation he is addressing—it is ‘your flight’. How can this refer to our future?
- This tribulation would be like nothing previous—terrible suffering at the end of the age but Jesus’ term ‘nor ever will’ means life goes on afterwards. How can this be the end of the world?
- The Jewish eyewitness historian, Josephus, described the incomparable horror of 68-70 AD– 3½ chaotic, awful years, in his famous work ‘Wars of the Jews’—it’s history! How can this not be what Jesus foretold?
- Jesus warned His disciples that they would face tribulation in their witnessing about Him (Mat 24:9). In Luke’s Acts and Paul’s letters don’t we read how much the unbelieving Jews persecuted them constantly?
- Jesus said they were to remain faithful to the ‘end’, an end which they could clearly foresee—either the end of the current age or of their earthly lives. How could this possibly be about the end of the world?
- On His way to the cross, Jesus said to the weeping crowds, Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’Then they will begin to say to the mountains ‘fall on us and to the hills ‘cover us’. (Luke 23:27ff). These people will face terrible times in their own generation, coming upon the apostate Jews—as Jesus had said, because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled (Luke 21:22). This took place in 68-70 AD when the Jerusalem temple and city were destroyed. So how can this be the end of the world?
The word used in the Greek NT for ‘tribulation’ is thlipsis. Strongs’ Concordance lists these uses in the NT: oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress. For example, note the following among the 45 occurances:
* Matthew 24:9 : They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations . .
*Acts 14:22. We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.
*2 Corinthians 1:4. [God ] comforts us in all our affliction so . . .
*Revelation 7:14. These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation . .
Finally, looking at Rev 7:9-14, John’s question about a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and the Lamb, is then told: These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.” This is a different ‘great tribulation’.
So what great tribulation is this?
This is that great tribulation: The world takes it out on Jesus’ people with a vengeance. In all periods of history the most horrific things have been done to believers right up to the present day. In the world you will have tribulation (John 16:23). The awful suffering experienced now by many in China, North Korea, Iran and Muslim dominated nations—is this not for them “the great tribulation” of their lives? Won’t they all appear before the throne?
The ‘Futurist’ view I am addressing here insults and discredits these suffering saints, who can surely identify with Paul when he talks about his sufferings filling up what’s lacking in the suffering of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
The NT affirms that suffering (thlipsis, distress) is part of the Christian life and cannot be avoided. Show me any NT writer who wrote about future believers facing some great tribulation ending the world far away into the distant future.
They expected this event to happen in their generation.