"The Tribulation - Another Look" by Tricia Tillin
Part Two: Important Questions
There are urgent and important questions to be asked whenever we come to consider this whole topic of the endtimes, the rapture and the tribulation. These questions however are rarely posed, and I wonder why.
HOW long is the Tribulation?
WHAT is the Tribulation?
WHEN is the Tribulation?
WHO is involved in the Tribulation?
In answering these vital questions, I am going to repeat some of what I'd already written in my longer study based on the prophecies in the book of Daniel. (See the study here). Firstly, how long does the Tribulation last, according to scripture?
Seven year Tribulation?
In my opinion, Christians err when they speak of a seven-year tribulation to come. It is not scripturally correct to speak of ALL the coming events as "The Tribulation" although that has become its label nonetheless; also it is not sustainable from the bible passages that these events last a full seven years.
Looking at every mention of the tribulation in scripture, there is not one that specifies its length as seven years! How has it come about that so many are taught this? It is entirely based on the belief of a gap in Daniel's prophecy, (Dan 9:27) and the final "week" of seven years being COMPLETELY TAKEN UP by the desolations to come. Yet even in Daniel we see that up until the middle of the week (three and a half years) there is relative peace.
Revelation 13:5 says the reign of the Antichrist is forty two months. "...and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months." The forty two months is the same as the "time, times and half a time" of Daniel 7:25. In addition Revelation 12:6 has the Woman hidden in the wilderness for 1260 days or three and a half years (are we to assume that God hid her for only half the Great Tribulation?) The two witnesses of Revelation also have a mission lasting just three and a half years!
Here is more proof of the extent of that attack on Israel. The Bible says " they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." (Luke 21:24) and although this does apply in a general sense to two thousand years of Jewish history, it is SPECIFIC to the endtimes. Revelation tells us exactly how long the Gentiles will trample the holy city, after gaining control - it is 42 months. (Rev. 11:2).
Not only is the Tribulation NOT seven years long, and is NOT the same as the reign of Antichrist nor the Wrath of God, but in my opinion it does not even take up the full length of the first three and a half years, for Jesus says that "that time will be cut short for the sake of the elect." Matt 24:31
That time can only be understood when seen in the context of the Exodus, the Passover and the Crucifixion.
Why do we call it the Great Tribulation?
Not only does the tribulation NOT last seven years, but the very word "tribulation" is misapplied in the first place. In almost every place in scripture, including the words of Jesus about the endtimes, "tribulation" means intense pressure or stress, and the word has its root in narrowness, crowding, pressing together. In the New Testament letters, it is a word describing the trouble and stress, and persecution endured by Christians. In fact we were appointed to tribulation:
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33
...tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Rom 5:3-5
...rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer Rom 12:12-13
no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation. 1 Thess 3:2-4
Look at the only mention in Revelation of a "Great Tribulation". It comes during the first phase, during the opening of the seals and BEFORE the final seal is opened on the scroll that contains the inheritance deed of God's people.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying,"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" ...13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?" And I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me,"These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:9-15)
The sudden appearance in heaven of so many diverse people makes us wonder what events precipitated this. Looking back, we can see that the opening of seal six (Rev 6:12) has caused a tremendous and terrifying earth-shaking, and it compares directly with the description that Jesus gave to his disciples when asked what would be the sign of his coming.
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt 24:29-31
So when Jesus comes "on the clouds of heaven" with a great shout and the sound of a trumpet, to gather his ELECT, "from one end of heaven to the other" [compare the Rapture passage by Paul in I Thessalonians 4:16-17 ] this is immediately AFTER "the great tribulation" - thus explaining how the multitudes arrived suddenly in the heavenlies having "come out of the great tribulation".
This scares many Christians, because not only does it contradict hundreds of years of church teaching, but it suggests that WE Christians have to go through the Great Tribulation! And in addition, it puts that tribulation during the initial stages of the endtime scenario, instead of lasting the full seven years. (In effect, at seals five/six - and also seal four, as we shall see).
When is the Tribulation? The Scriptural Patterns.
As with most other things in the life of the Church, we walk the same path as Jesus. He is our Pattern. This holds true as much for the prophetic timetable as for his spiritual teaching.
The spiritual path that Jesus took is reflected in our own, apart from the fact that Jesus is the only One who could give his life for the salvation of the whole earth. Nobody but the incarnate Christ could do that, nor ever will again. However, he intimated that we - his Body - would walk in his footsteps.
Therefore we can see the path through that last day of the life of Jesus on earth as symbolic of our path through testing and tribulation to deliverance from death. In the case of Jesus, he did go on to die. But in scripture we see a more exact example for the Church: Peter being delivered from prison. Let's look at these two examples.
(1) Jesus Prepares
The events in sequence, compared to the Rapture & Tribulation
|Last Supper & Fellowship||Eating the lamb||(Scriptures)||(Seals)|
|Garden of Gethsemane agony and resolution||Night of Watching||
false prophets will rise up and deceive many...take heed that you not be deceived. ...do not be terrified... the end will not come immediately... lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. ...Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist....
Seals One - Four
|Betrayal and arrest, desertion and rejection by friends||Death of Egyptians||
Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death..
But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
|Trials, condemnation by religion and world; testimony given before authorities||Moses before Pharaoh
Pharaoh lets people go
But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them ...And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations...
|Crucifixion (which was actually deliverance)||Release from Egypt||
But he who endures to the end shall be saved.... not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls... When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
...and then the end will come.
Tribulation cut short for the sake of the elect
On the evening of Preparation Day, Jesus shared a meal with his friends. (note one). Afterwards, as the Jewish custom, they stayed awake and held a vigil, a "night of watchfulness" to remember how the Lord watched over his people in Egypt. (note two) The idea was to stay awake "watch and pray" but the disciples fell asleep, even though Jesus tried to rouse them. The third time, Jesus said "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand." (Matt 26:45-46)
What does that teach us about the sequence of events and the Tribulation?
In almost every statement about the return of Jesus, he commanded us to WATCH. Our "night of watching" is not just a general state of awareness but specifically relates to the Passover deliverance from Egypt (which the disciples were commemorating by their vigil on the Mount of Olives) and to the conditions that will apply as we come up to the "midnight moment" of our own battle with the authorities.
The Gethsemane Preparation
The day that started (in the Jewish clock) at 6pm, in which Jesus knelt to pray, was called The Day of Preparation. It was a day for examining and preparing the sacrificial lamb for slaughter, and for getting rid of any leaven from the house (leaven is symbolic of anything that corrupts purity).
For Jesus therefore this day was his own preparation for sacrifice. it was a preparation of his heart and spirit for the death to come. Let us not imagine this was easy. He agonised so much that his sweat fell like drops of blood. At the darkest moment, in Gethsemane, he faced the temptation to choose this world rather than eternity; the easy route rather than pain and suffering; the desire for self-preservation rather than obedience to the Father.
So we should learn from this struggle. We will face our own "Gethsemane" and will need to PREPARE in fasting and prayer, cleansing and vigilance of mind and heart. We will have to wake up like the wise bridesmaids, and trim our lamps.
We have to recall Jesus making his decision, and become as resolute as he was in laying down our lives if necessary - for "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33) Just as the first Passover, death stalks the streets and the ONLY safety is "under the blood". While the world hangs in the balance and everything shakes, we keep our midnight vigil, we watch and pray, stay firm in faith, and ready ourselves to depart.
How were the ancient Israelites commanded to spend this Passover night? "with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand." .(Ex 12:11) GET READY TO GO!
"Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Luke 12:35-48
The Four Watches of the Night
It is interesting that in a similar passage Jesus speaks of us having to wait throughout the four watches of the night. In Jewish counting, the first watch of the night began at dusk (around 6pm) and lasted for three hours. The second was 9-midnight; the third to 3am (cockcrow) and the fourth to morning at 6am.
Mark 13:32-37 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch . Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch !"
These times were all significant in the last day of Jesus:
- Evening - (The Lamb Slain and Eaten) Last Supper where Jesus offered his body and blood & Gethsemane
- Midnight - (The Angel of Death takes the Firstborn) Betrayal and Arrest of the Only Begotten Son
- Cock-Crow - (Pharaoh is confronted) Jesus before the Authorities, and the Denial by Peter
- Morning - (Israel escapes from Egypt) Convicted, Rejected "crucify him"
When looking at these events on a time-scale and comparing the last week, day, hour of Jesus to the years of our own future, we can see some startling new information about what we call "The Tribulation". It's not seven years after all, but a very short time. We will indeed have to enter into it, at least in mental preparation if not actually, but will almost immediately be delivered! But first let's look at our second example, Peter:
(2) Peter is Delivered
The second indication of our journey through tribulation, and our deliverance from it, is the Apostle Peter.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people." (Acts 12:1-11)
Here again it was the Passover season "The days of Unleavened Bread". Again there is a waiting time through the night, hidden in that fearsome prison, seemingly with no hope of escape from what is to come - the persecution and death planned by the authorities. Like Jesus, Passover would bring trial, condemnation and death to Peter, but just as in the Garden of Gethsemane Peter was sound asleep.
This theme of sleep is seen in other endtimes scriptures - the bridesmaids (both wise and unwise) fall asleep as they wait for the Bridegroom; the disciples in the Garden; the servants waiting for their Master to return are tempted to sleep - and we are urged not to fall asleep while we wait for that Day: "Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him." (1 Thess 5:6-10)
The angel says Arise!
But now came Peter's "midnight moment". In a similar way to the bridesmaids hearing the "midnight cry" - "Behold, He comes!" - Peter had a thwack on the side to wake him up in the middle of the night, and an angel said ARISE! The light shone around him and he was led out miraculously to safety before the morning could dawn.
Peter walked symbolically part-way with Jesus, through Gethsemane and the Night of Watching, but unlike the Saviour he did not progress to trial and death, but was delivered by an angel before morning could break. So the Church will also walk with Jesus part-way through testing and seeming hopelessness, but through faith and the miraculous intervention of the angels will be delivered from death.
In Part Three I will look at the comparisons between these biblical events and our own situation today.
(1) Some years before the birth of Jesus the Passover celebration had been changed and in the Lord’s time called for a brief ritual meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (horseradish) to begin the 14th (Preparation Day) followed by a great and leisurely festival meal on the 15th, when Passover properly begins. This tradition is still followed today.
(2) The Passover was biblically the 14th, and the night before was the Night of Watching. Customs changed, but Jesus kept the Passover at the biblical time even though by his day the Jews were keeping Passover a day later, just as they do today, John 18:28. Notice that the disciples were not confused about when He was keeping the Passover, Matthew 26: 18-19; Mark 14; Luke 22:8-14; John 13. Jesus kept the Passover as the 14th began; was on trial that night, and was led out to die as morning came. The Jews freely admit that the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were at one time two separate festivals. However, following their return from Babylon, the two were merged into one observance .and Passover is now kept by Jews on Abib 15. That they kept Passover a day late is clear from John's Gospel: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover” (John 18:28). The Encyclopedia Judaica admits that the Jews have fused the two observances and now keep Passover a day late on the 15th, observing it along with the first day of Unleavened Bread: “The feast of Passover consists of two parts: the Passover ceremony, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Originally, both parts existed separately; but at the beginning of the exile they were combined” (Vol. 13, “Passover,” p. 169)..
(3) Jesus died on Wednesday, not Friday. But how could Wednesday be called in the bible "the day before the Sabbath". And what about the timing of the Passover Feast? How come the women did not go to the tomb to anoint the body on the Friday? For a complete answer to this, please read here.