Lesson 11: The Great Tribulation
What is the Great Tribulation? What nations and people are prophesied to suffer through that time? What is God's purpose for it? We shall see this and much more!
During World War II, the Japanese took more than 130,000 prisoners, and
the death rate was 27 percent! The article "To
Hell and Back" in the May 23, 2009, issue of World magazine
tells about U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Edward Treski who "for two years,
three months, and 15 days survived as a prisoner in three Japanese internment
camps spread around the Philippines—places where the punished found
themselves hanging by their arms at the camp gate or beaten with electric
cattle prods while standing in water. Places where prisoners would hide
the dead to get extra food rations until the smell became too great
and where the decomposing bodies would rise out of their graves every
rainy season demanding to be reburied.
"Then, in the late summer of 1944, Treski found his neck tethered
by ropes to hundreds of other emaciated prisoners...and these barefooted
men [were forced] to march. [Many exhausted men died along the way.]
"[Upon reaching] the port...750 POWs were crammed like sardines into
the hull of what survivors later called a 'hell ship.' It was like a furnace
down there, no water, no facilities at all, nothing. Guards used a rope
to lower a five-gallon can of water and peelings of rotten tropical vegetables
to the starving prisoners. They'd send a tin can down there for waste—[probably]
the same can they put the food and water in. The POWs [spent] 14 days
in that foul and steamy hold." Most thought they would either starve
to death or suffocate from lack of air.
The article goes on to tell about Treski's amazing escape, which he believed
to be miraculous.
Sadly, the suffering of POWs in WWII—the starvation, diseases, torture,
injuries and executions—gives us an idea of the kinds of misery that many
will suffer during what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation.
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Know This: God Can and Will Protect His People!
Before we focus on the scary events of the end time, let's be assured of
God's desire and power to protect His followers! Countless times, God has
miraculously protected people from all kinds of dangers.
Even when God allows His children to die, He often has protected them from
other trials, such as captivity, torture or prolonged suffering.
Sometimes the way that God protects is to warn His people to "flee" from
imminent danger to a place where He will keep them safe (Matthew 10:23). God
told Lot to get out of Sodom before He destroyed it. God told Joseph in a
dream to take the infant Jesus and Mary and "flee to Egypt" (Matthew 2:13).
The term Great Tribulation comes from Jesus' Olivet Prophecy. Jesus
told His disciples (including future disciples), "Therefore when
you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet,
standing in the holy place [explained in Lesson 10]...then let those who are
in Judea flee to the mountains... For then there will be great
tribulation" (Matthew 24:15-16, 21, emphasis added throughout).
A prophecy about God protecting a large part of His Church during the Great
Tribulation is in Revelation 12:14: "But the woman [symbolic of God's Church]
was given two wings of a great eagle [supernatural help], that she might fly
[flee] into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time
and times and half a time [3½ years], from the presence of the serpent [Satan—verse
9]." However, God will allow some members of His Church to be persecuted and
even martyred (verse 17).
Please note that the theory of a secret "rapture" of saints to heaven before
the Tribulation is not biblical! The saints will be protected in
a "place" in "the wilderness"—on the earth, not in heaven. For a thorough
analysis of the rapture theory, please see "The Rapture—a
Popular but False Doctrine" and the second part in "The Rapture Is Wrong: The Saints Don't Rise to Run Away."
Christ was evidently referring to the time of the Great Tribulation when
He promised His Church, "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I
also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the
whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10).
There definitely is a positive side to all the end-time calamities. Not only
will they bring many people to repentance, but they let us know that Christ
will soon return, resurrect the saints and set up the Kingdom of God on earth!
What is the Great Tribulation?
Matthew 24:9, 21, 29
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you
will be hated by all nations for My name's sake…
"For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since
the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be…
"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."
Many people have suffered "tribulation," meaning great affliction, trial
or distress. But in speaking of the end time, Jesus said, "For then there
will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of
the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21; see
a parallel account in Mark 13:19).
Therefore, the Great Tribulation is how Jesus described history's worst-ever
time of widespread tribulation. Other prophecies that refer to this time of unprecedented suffering
are Jeremiah 30:7; Ezekiel 5:9 and Daniel 12:1.
Jesus also said, "If those days had not been cut short [by God], no one
would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened"
(Matthew 24:22, New International Version). This verse not only shows that
the Great Tribulation will be terrible, it proves we are in the end time.
Only since the invention of nuclear weapons has it been possible to destroy
all life on earth.
The Great Tribulation is also described in Revelation 6:9-11 and many other
Old and New Testament prophecies.
Is the Great Tribulation directed toward Israel (which, as we saw
in Lesson 9, often refers to the modern American and the British people)
as well as Judah (the modern Jewish nation called Israel)?
Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of
Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
The answer is yes (and "British people" includes people of Australia,
New Zealand, South Africa and other people of British descent). It is "the
time of Jacob's [Israel's] trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7). In Lesson 9, we learned
that the prophetic descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel,
are the peoples who settled most prominently in Great Britain and the United
States of America.
The prophecy in Daniel 12:1 is directed toward "your people," meaning the
descendants of God's chosen nation of Israel.
In Luke's account of the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus said, "For this is the time
of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written [by the prophets]"
(Luke 21:22, NIV). In verse 23, who are "this people"? Jesus probably meant
descendants of both Israel and Judah. He went on to say, "They will fall by
the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will
be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled"
(verse 24, NIV). The reference to Jerusalem shows the punishment will include
Judah, the modern Jewish state of Israel.
Why will God punish the Israelite people?
Deuteronomy 4:5-8, 23-27, 30-31
"Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord
my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which
you go to possess.
"Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and
your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes,
and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'
"For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the
Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?
"And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous
judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?...
"Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord
your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image
in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you.
"For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
"When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the
land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything,
and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I
call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon
utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess;
you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed.
"And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left
few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you...
"When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the
latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for
the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy
you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them."
God chose Israel to be His model nation to demonstrate to the rest of the
world the goodness and wisdom of God's laws. But with all the understanding
and other blessings comes a stricter accountability.
The British and American people have been failing terribly in God's mission
as they increasingly ignore the Bible and reject God's laws and moral standards.
Therefore, as God promised, He will punish them. That punishment will be the
Prophecy indicates that the Tribulation will motivate many people to repent
of their sins and turn to God. If you end up in captivity "in the latter days,"you
can turn to God for mercy. "From there you will seek the Lord your God, and
you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart" (Deuteronomy 4:29-30).
God will begin punishing the rest of the world beginning about one year before
the return of Christ. That period will be the first part of "the day of the
Lord" (Acts 2:20), and that will be explained in Lesson 13.
Is the Great Tribulation also a time of persecution of true Christians?
"But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and
persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will
be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake."
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you
will be hated by all nations for My name's sake."
"And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures
to the end shall be saved."
In the Olivet Prophecy (recorded in these three chapters), Jesus was speaking
to His disciples (and future disciples) about the persecution to
It is the time when a world religious power will "persecute the saints of
the Most High" (Daniel 7:25). Allied with the religious leader will be the
"beast" of Revelation 13:7 who will "make war with the saints and...overcome
them" (see also Revelation 17:6). That religious leader and "the beast" will
be explained in the next lesson.
As was explained above, God will miraculously protect a great number of His
people—especially ones who are spiritually close to God. Remember
that it is never too late to repent and surrender to God. No matter what kind
of suffering you are in—even in a foreign concentration camp—God says, "Then
you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And
you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart"
Does God use enemy nations as instruments for His purposes?
"Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is
God used Assyria as "the rod of [His] anger" to conquer and deport the rebellious
house of Israel. Later, God used Babylon as His agent to conquer the increasingly
sinful house of Judah and to take them captive (Jeremiah 20:4). These punishments
serve as types of the end-time punishments.
Britain and America and their allies suffered greatly through two world wars
against Germany and her allies. Seemingly God was giving Britain and America
a strong warning about their sins while at the same time mercifully and miraculously
intervening to give them victory. According to Bible prophecy, the time is
coming when the Anglo-Saxon people will lose a war and the survivors will
go into captivity.
The consequences for continued disobedience to God will be severe. "The Lord
will cause you to be defeated before your enemies... You shall beget sons
and daughters, but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity...
The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth,
as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand,
a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show
favor to the young" (Deuteronomy 28:25, 41, 49-50).
Does Satan instigate the beginning of the Great Tribulation?
"Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the
inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you,
having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."
Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted
the woman who gave birth to the male Child.
Satan not only hates Christ's followers, he also has a special hatred for
the descendants of Israel ever since God chose them to be His "holy people"
to "keep all His commandments" as a role model for all other nations. The
"woman" Satan persecutes can symbolize both God's Church and physical Israel.
Does the Great Tribulation begin 3½ years before Christ returns?
The prophetic phrase "a time [one year] and times [two years] and half a
time [1/2 year]" refers to 3½ years. The "saints" ("the holy people") will
be persecuted for 3½ years (Daniel 7:25; 12:7). A large part of the Church
("the woman") will be divinely protected and "nourished" during that same
time (Revelation 12:14). Apparently simultaneously, the gentiles, led by "the
beast," will "tread the holy city [Jerusalem] underfoot for forty-two months"
(Revelation 11:2; 13:4-5). At the same time, God's "two witnesses...will prophesy
one thousand two hundred and sixty days" (Revelation 11:3). All these phrases
mean the same length of time—3½ years.
Does the Bible prophesy a "second Exodus" for the survivors of captivity?
It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the
second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria
and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and
the islands of the sea.
He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of
Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of
Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall
be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
But they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the west;
together they shall plunder the people of the East; they shall lay their hand
on Edom and Moab; and the people of Ammon shall obey them.
The Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty
wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams,
and make men cross over dryshod.
There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from
Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of
Not everyone who is taken into captivity will die. Evidently, millions who
turn to God and survive will be invited by Jesus Christ, shortly after His
return, to His holy city of Jerusalem (see also Isaiah 27:12-13 and 51:10-11).
These scriptures portray a massive relocation of survivors. This "exodus"
will far exceed and overshadow the famous exodus from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15;
23:7-8). And the Bible has many other scriptures about this joyous future
Jesus warned, "But ever be on your guard, so that your hearts may not be
loaded down with self-indulgence, drunkenness, and worldly worries, and
that day, like a trap, catch you unawares" (Luke 21:34, Williams translation).
God can easily be crowded out of our lives not only by sinful things, but
also by too many other things—even good things—taking up our time. In the
parable of the sower, Jesus warned about too many "cares of this world"
and "desires for other things" and "pleasures of life" (Matthew 13:22; Mark
4:19; Luke 8:14). When someone has too many irons in the fire, it's time
How about you? While this is on your mind, this will be a good time to
reexamine your priorities. Make Matthew 6:33 ("seek first the kingdom of
God and His righteousness") the overall goal of your life, and then make
all your sub-goals compatible with that.
To reorder your life, start right now by writing down several changes you
want to make to your priorities and activities. Review your plan at least
once a day during the coming week. You'll be encouraged as you see the evidence
of real spiritual growth!
Next Lesson: The Beast, the False Prophet and the Antichrist
Questions about this lesson? Feedback about
The Book of Revelation Unveiled
The "Time of Jacob's Trouble"
The Horsemen of Revelation: The Fifth Horseman Rides
From Punishment to Destiny
Coming Calamities: Does God Offer Protection?
How long will the Great Tribulation mentioned in Bible prophecy last?
What does the Bible teach about a place of safety for the Church during the coming Great Tribulation?