The Tribulation -- Fact or Fiction?

Along with all of the other speculations being tossed around by the millennialists and dispensationalists, is the fantasy that there will be a terrible tribulation, the likes of which the entire world has never ever known. One writer put the millennial view as follows: “The great tribulation will be the most terrible time of trouble in all of human history. Jesus said so. It will even be more devastating to the Jews than Hitler's holocaust!” That comes from Mr. Herbert Vander Lugt. It is found in a pamphlet called, “Perhaps Today, The Rapture of the Church.” page 21. It is a publication of the Radio Bible Class, a very popular and widely heard national radio program. Mr. Lugt argues that this tribulation period won't last long -- only three and a half years and during this time he imagines that the nation of Israel will turn back to Jehovah, be converted to Christ, and begin an unprecedented preaching campaign to convert the entire world. Listen to Mr. Hal Lindsey. “During the Tribulation the spotlight is on the Jew -- in the Book of Revelation the Jew is responsible for evangelizing the world again...” The Late Great Planet Earth, page 131. Will wonders never cease? Just how such strange interpretations are extracted from the word of God is indeed a wonder.

The truth is that there is nothing even remotely like a period of time that is to be a future time of Tribulation to anyone. The passage that is so badly misused is Matthew 24:20-21. It reads, “But pray that your flight may 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.” Taken in its context, there is nothing very difficult to understand here in this verse. We will see momentarily that there is really nothing at all future in this protective promise made by Jesus to His disciples.

The millennialists tie Deuteronomy 4:30 and Matthew 24:21 together and come up with some fanciful ideas about the future. The Old Testament passage reads, “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice.” This is then attached to this false idea of some future “tribulation period” when the Jewish nation will all become disciples of Jesus Christ.

In order to understand this there are certain things found in Matthew 24 that absolutely must be taken into consideration. Luke 19:43,44 gives us the part of Jesus' instructions given just before what is reported in Matthew 24. It reads, “For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children with thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation.” This is clearly a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

The armies of the Roman Empire laid siege to Jerusalem in A.D. 68 and for two years literally starved the city to death. Luke's parallel account of Matthew 24 is found in Luke chapter 21. Notice verse 20. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies then recognize that her desolation is at hand.” Millennialists make much out of the phrase “abomination of desolation.” They think it is something yet to be done to the temple which somehow miraculously is to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. In the context, Jesus equates the destruction of Jerusalem, with all the atrocities that were committed, with the “abomination that makes desolate.”

I am not denying that the Bible teaches tribulation. I am denying that it is some sort of prelude to the end of time and to the imagined events that are on the schedule of the dispensationalists. The Bible teaches that Jews of the Old Testament did suffer terrible tribulations. Think back to the numerous times they were taken captive by other nations. The Bible also teaches that Christians suffer for the name of Christ. Acts is a record of the first tribulations through which the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ passed. Read Acts 5:40 with me. “... and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them.” The next verse says, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” So you see, the tribulation was a part of early Christianity and will continue to be a long as time will last. We should also remember the Paul passed the warning of Jesus down to the succeeding generations. He told Timothy, “Yea, and all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

The destruction of Jerusalem was that greatest of all tribulations anyone has ever witnessed. When the Roman army cut Jerusalem off from any outside help, gradually the city simply starved to death. Josephus was a Jew, employed by Rome, to write a history of the Jewish people. His monumental work “Wars of the Jews,” and “Antiquities of the Jews” gives us much information about what actually took place. He reported that in Jerusalem, the Zealot party revolted against Roman authority. They fell on people who differed with them and slaughtered over 12,000 of them. The horror spread through the city. Josephus said that people were so terrified that they withheld their tears, refusing to weep openly for their own dead, fearing they would suffer the same fate. (Wars, IV., 5:3).

The slaughter within the city walls continued until the outer temple “overflowed with blood.” In only one day near 9,000 corpses littered the temple grounds. Even those who came to offer sacrifice were slain and their blood mingled with the blood of the sacrifice they would have offered. The bodies of both priests and the profane were mixed together with the carcasses of beasts in what Josephus describes as “lakes of blood in the court of the temple” (Wars, V,.1:5). He then began a description of the starvation in the city. Hunger caused some to try and sneak out of the city under the cloak of darkness in search of food. Those who were caught were crucified in plain view of the walls of Jerusalem. The Romans often nailed several to the same torture stake (Wars V.11:1:1). There were reports of cannibalism, even parents eating their own offsprings

When Jerusalem finally fell the Romans spread the slaughter to the entire countryside. It has been described as great tribulation resulting from famine, slaughter, and even cruel brutality inflicted on Jews, sometimes by members of their own families. This adds credence to Christ's assessment of a tribulation such as the world has ever known, or ever shall have know.

It is impossible to harmonize the theory of millennialism and the Bible. You see, for one thing, the millennialists argue that the saints will not even be on earth when this imaginary “Tribulation” takes place. Their theory is that they will be secreted away somewhere in a lovely place they call “The Rapture.” How could what Jesus said have had any relevance at all to His disciples? Why would He tell them they should pray that their flight not be in winter or on a Sabbath day? The flight He had in mind was certainly not the flight away to this unrealistic and fanciful Rapture. Their flight was from the city of Jerusalem. They were warned that when armies encircled Jerusalem, they should then leave for their own safety. If they had to leave in winter, that would make their travel very difficult. Travel to and from Jerusalem on the Sabbath Day was difficult due to the congested streets and roads. So, He told them in advance what to look for when this tribulation was to take place. And, it certainly was not something far down the distant future that would introduce the end of time.

One other thought related to Matthew 24. Verse 9 reads, “Then they will delier you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.” As you read Acts of the Apostles you will see this fulfilled before your very eyes. And the persecution was not against the Jews as a nation; it was against young men like Stephen, against veteran aposltes like Paul, against Christians in general. Paul himself once participated in this persecution against the church, binding men and women and putting them in prison. This laid heavily on his great heart and for years after he continued to express his deepest and most sincere regrets (Galatians 1:13, for example, where he wrote, “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it. The persecutor, however, became one of the persecuted as he converted to Christ and began serving the Lord as a chosen ambassador to the Gentiles.

In Matthew 24, the tribulation is mentioned as ”great tribulation“ in verse 24. Verse 24 is not a different tribulation from the tribulation in verse 9. The tribulation was to extend to everyone who was in anyway remotely connected with Jerusalem, for Jerusalem was the target of the Roman wrath. It was Jerusalem they were going to destroy and in so doing effectively put an end to what Rome regarded as a rival to their power. This laid the ground for a later deification of the Roman Caesar as a god, to be worshipped and admired by all. The ”great tribulation“ is over and done with in the destruction of Jerusalem, the scattering of Christians, and dispersion of Jews. But the tribulation that is perpetrated against those who serve God remains. It may take different forms in different ages, but it will always be there. The Christians is urged to remain faithful, even unto death, and a victor's crown is the promised reward. Those who endure faithfully unto the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22).

Let me urge you to reject speculations and accept the fundamental simple truth of the Lord's holy word. Just accept what you know is factual and simple to comprehend. In so doing, you will be sure that freedom in Christ is yours to enjoy. Remember, Jesus said, ”And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free“ (John 8:32).

Back to Religious Issues     Home