What Is The Tribulation ? – Part 1




 The Word “Tribulation”


There is a Greek word that appears 22 times in the original text of the New Testament, and it’s always translated “tribulation” in our English bibles.   The word is “thlipsis”, and it means “pressure, affliction, anguish, persecution, trouble, tribulation”.  The word is used in reference to various tribulations that have occurred to various different people.  Some of these tribulations are specific to certain groups of people, such as the congregation of the Lord’s people in a particular city.  In  Revelation 2:9  Jesus says,  “I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich.”   Three times “tribulation is used in this respect.  Sometimes it refers to the type of tribulations that we are ALL subject to in this life, and especially as Christians.   Sometimes individual people are mentioned suffering this kind of tribulation.  In  John 16:33,  Jesus says,  “..In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”   “Tribulation” is used fifteen times in this respect. 


worshiping-in-heavenOne of those fifteen times is in  Revelation 7:14.   Here’s the context surrounding that verse.   It says in  verses  9 & 10,  “After these things, I looked and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, and all tribes, and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands, and they cry out with a loud voice saying:  Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 


So we have here a “vision” of heaven, with God on His throne, and with the Lamb of God beside Him, and a great multitude of peoples, from every nation and tongue that ever existed,  and their number was so great, that they couldn’t even be counted, all praising God and the Lamb.  It’s important to remember though, that this is a “vision”, and not an actual occurrence.  The book of Revelation is full of visions.  Visions are symbolic; They are representative of other things.  Once again, these visions are not real life occurrences.


Then the scripture says in  verse‘s 13 & 14,  “And one of the elders answered saying to me;  These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where did they come?  And I said to him;  My Lord, YOU know.  And he said to me;  These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”   In the original Greek language, this particular tribulation is referred to as “the tribulation, the great”.  The use of the phrase “THE tribulation”, specifically means that this tribulation is unique and unlike any other.  It is “THE great tribulation”, not just another one of many tribulations, but this refers to a very specific tribulation, that the scripture calls “THE great tribulation”.  


The statement is made in that passage..  “..They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.  And from that statement, we know for sure, that these are souls who have had their sins forgiven, and have been saved by the blood of Christ, “washed by the blood of Christ”, as the scriptures say.    (Acts 22:16  says..  Why do you delay?  Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”) 

And in this vision, these souls who have been washed, are now in heaven.  And there’s such a great multitude of them that they couldn’t be counted.  And they come “from every nation, and tribe, and peoples and tongues”.   So this is without a doubt, all of the saved who have ever lived!  It’s not just the saved from the one nation of Israel.  And they’re not just from one or two of the gentile nations, but they’re from “every tribe and people and tongue!”  And because there’s such a great multitude of them,  it must consist of every soul who has ever lived and been saved.  It can not be the souls of only a specific time period (a generation).  It must be the souls of ALL generations of people, from the beginning of time, till the end of time.  The wording of the verse demands that very conclusion.


The point that I’m making is that these souls have come out of “THE great tribulation”, that every one of them had experienced during their lifetime.   Jesus said,  “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Jesus said, in  Revelation 3:5,  clothed-in-whiteHe who overcomes, shall thus be clothed in white garments..”      Those words were spoken to the congregation of Christians, in the city of Sardis, near the end of the first century.  But those words really apply to EVERY congregation, for all generations.  “He who overcomes, shall thus be clothed in white garments.”   And the vision that the apostle John saw, described in  Revelation 7:9-17,  is a vision of all these saved souls, from every tribe and tongue, and from every generation from the beginning, till the end of time, all clothed in white.


Do you see why this tribulation, referred to as “THE great tribulation”, simply cannot be interpreted so as to refer to a tribulation that is specific to just one “generation” of people, or to just one “local” or to just one short period of time?   So these verses stand along with several other verses, in which the tribulation spoken of, refers to the trials and persecutions of this life, that ALL Christians, and that ALL other faithful people, from the beginning of time till the end, have been subjected to, and will be subjected to.

Once again, it is abundantly clear, that THE tribulation, spoken of in  Revelation 7:14,  does NOT refer to a tribulation specific to only one period of time, or to only one nation of people.  It refers to ALL faithful people, from the beginning of time, till the end of time.

There’s four more times that the word “tribulation” is used in the New Testament, and those four times are in  Mathew 24:21 & 29,  and  Mark 13:19 & 24.   We’ll take a look at those verses next. 



Then There Shall Be A Great Tribulation..


We’re told by Jesus, in  Mathew 24:21-22,   “For then there shall be A great tribulation..  Please take note..  This scripture did not say “THE” great tribulation, but rather it says “A” great tribulation.  I can’t overemphasize the significance of the word “THE” in scripture.  The word “THE” is very specific in the ancient Greek language, as well as in our English language today. 

For example;  If your wife is cooking diner, and she has her various kitchen utensils laying there on the counter, and she says to you..  Please had me THE spatula, with the rubber end on it.  She doesn’t want just any spatula, but rather, she wants THE spatula, with the rubber end on it.  Your wife could have said..  Please hand me A spatula.  But she didn’t want just any spatula;  She wanted THE one with the rubber end!  Very specific, in our language today, and also very specific in the Greek language that THE new testament scriptures were written in.  The word THE, refers to a specific one; The only one!   

On the other hand, the use of the word “A”, such as in “A tribulation”, refers to one of many tribulations that have befallen mankind over the centuries.  This one spoken of in  Mathew 24,  is one of those many tribulations.  Granted, it is referred to as a “great” tribulation, and it is said to be worse than any other, it is still among the many tribulations that have befallen mankind over the centuries.  

Let me begin again with  Mathew 24:21-22;  “For then there shall be A great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.  And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved;  But for the sake of the elect, those days shall be cut short.”  


Many theories have been developed concerning when this “great tribulation” would occur.  Many people believe that it will occur near the end of time, while others say that it refers to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, (which is actually the correct belief)

However, many say that it’s the same tribulation that is referred to in  Revelation 7:14.  There are so many differing theories on this subject, that we can’t explain each and every one in this article.  Instead, what we’ll do is look at exactly what the scriptures tell us, about this “tribulation”.  It’s of no value at all to develop theories that are based on our imagination and not on biblical fact.  So we’ll just examine the facts of scripture and make only those conclusions that are warranted.  That’s the way any bible subject should be studied.  “Just the facts”, no theories, no imaginations.


Jesus tells us in  Mathew 21:15,  that this “great tribulation” would occur..  “..when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place..”  And Jesus also tells us,  “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;  let him who is on the housetop, not go down to get the things out, that are in his house;  and let him who is in the field, not turn back to get his cloak.  But woe to those who are with child, and to those who are nursing infants in those days.  And pray that it may not be in winter, or on a Sabbath.”    V’s 16-20.






All of the things mentioned in those verses indicate a sense of urgency, don’t they?  There’s an urgency in escaping this great tribulation.   So for the people to whom this applies, it is something that can be escaped.  And Jesus is giving a warning,  He’s saying..  “Get out!  Don’t go back into your house, don’t try to gather any belongings.  Anything that would slow a person down needs to be avoided.  Woe to any woman with child or a woman who is nursing a child, because that would definitely slow her down as she tried to escape the area.  And the reason for the great urgency is that  “for then there will be a great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.” 


Isn’t that the same with any “natural catastrophe” that we have a warning about?  If there’s a fire in our home, don’t go back in for your belongings.  If there’s a hurricane approaching, get out of the area.  What if you were warned that terrorists were ready to enter the city where you lived to murder everyone and destroy the city?  You’d get out wouldn’t you?  And you’d get out fast!  That’s the idea here, a great tribulation is coming such as has never occurred before, and will not occur again, so when you see the sign of this happening, namely “the abomination of desolation”, get out while you can!


judeaJesus mentions Judea specifically in  Mat 21:16.   He says,  “Then those who are in Judea, flee to the mountains.”   Judea was a province named after the former kingdom of Judah which occupied approximately the same territory.  When the twelve tribes that made up the kingdom of Israel split, because of their religious differences, the ten northern tribes retained the name Israel, while the two tribes in the southern part of the kingdom, namely Judah and Benjamin, formed a kingdom of their own that was called Judah.  These were the two tribes that remained faithful to God the longest.   The ten northern tribes were insistent on worshipping the gods of the surrounding nations. 



The capital city of Judah was Jerusalem.  During the time of Christ, Judea occupied the approximate area between the Dead Sea on the east, and the Mediterranean Sea on the west.  Samaria was directly to the north of Judea and to the south was Idumea (the Greek name for Edom.  see Mark 3:8).  The mountains were on the west side of Judea.  And Jesus said,  “Then those who are in Judea, flee to the mountains.”  Wherever you are, on the housetop or in the field, flee!


According to Jesus, the time when the people in Judea were to flee, was  “..when you see the Abomination of Desolation spoken of through Daniel the prophet..”   Mat 21:15 .   In that same verse Jesus said that this abomination would be  “standing in the holy place”.   In  Mark 13:14   it says that this abomination would be  “standing where it should not be”.   Abominations occur in the world, and among people of the world, and they shouldn’t occur at all, but anything that is “abominable” to God, should certainly not “stand in a holy place”.   But what “holy place” is being referred to?  Was it the temple in Jerusalem?  Was it the surrounding area?  Was it a different place that had been dedicated to God?  Could it even be in the “hearts” of people who were supposed to be God’s people? 


Jesus said in  John 18:36,   “My kingdom is not of this world”.  He said in  Luke 17:21,  “For the kingdom of God is within you”.   We’re told in  1 Corinthians 6:19,   “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”


So abominations can occur, or “stand” within the hearts of the people of God, or they can “stand” within a place which is dedicated to God.  But Jesus said in  Mat 21:15,  that this Abomination of Desolation would be “standing in the holy place”,  and  “standing where it should not be”.    So where were the people going to see this abomination standing?





The Book of Daniel


Jesus said that this abomination was spoken of through Daniel the prophet.  There are three references to this abomination in the book of Daniel.  They are found in  Daniel 9:27,  Daniel 11:31,  and  Daniel 12:11. 


We’re told in  Daniel 11:31,  “And forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary, and do away with the regular sacrifice.  And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”  The literal translation of “the abomination of desolation” is..   “detestable things that cause desolation”, or “that cause horror.”

Let me give you a word-for-word, literal translation of that verse directly from the Hebrew..  “And arms, on his part, shall stand of strength, and they shall pollute the sanctuary, and shall take away the daily, and they shall put the detestable things that cause desolation.” 

Daniel had been prophesying about rulers and nations that would come to power in the future, and what these rulers would do to one another and to the people that they rule over.  In this particular chapter, Daniel had been speaking about two kings, or rulers, who would fight against one another.


And it says in  Daniel 11:27-33,   “As for both kings, their hearts will be intent on evil, and they will speak lies to each other at the same table;  but it will not succeed, for the end is still to come at the appointed time.  Then he will return to his land with much possessions, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant, and he will take action and return to his own land.  At the appointed time he will return and come to the south, but this time it will not turn out the way it did before. 

For ships will come from Cyprus against him;  therefore he will be disheartened, and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant and take action;  so he will come back and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant;  and forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary, and do away with the regular sacrifice.  And they will give the abomination of desolation.  And by smooth words he will pollute those who act wickedly towards the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.  And those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many;  yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder, many days.” 


holy-covenantThe “holy covenant” spoken of in those verses is of course the covenant between God and his people.  At the time when Daniel wrote these things, the covenant in effect was the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel.

We should notice here that the tribulation and the abomination of desolation are NOT the same thing!   The prophecy of Daniel says  “they will set up the abomination of desolation”.   And Jesus had said , “when you SEE the abomination of desolation STANDING in the holy place”,  THEN you should flee to the mountains.   And the reason they should flee was,  “then there will be a great tribulation..”   So we see that the abomination of desolation was something that was going to be “set up”,  or “placed”, and then when the people could “see it standing”, that was the “sign” for them to flee because a great tribulation was coming next.  The question is;  What “detestable thing” was going to be “set up” that would cause “desolation” or “horror”? 


Another thing we should take notice of, is that both believers and non-believers would be affected by this tribulation.  Jesus had said in  Mat 24:22,   “And unless those days had been cut short  (in other words unless the tribulation would be stopped)  no life would have been saved;  But for the sake of the ELECT, those days shall be cut short.”  So Jesus was prophesying here, and telling His disciples that this tribulation was going to come very shortly after the “destestable thing that causes desolation” had been “set up” and was “seen standing”.   And the tribulation was going to be so great, that no flesh would have survived if God hadn’t “cut short” those days.  But, Jesus was promising that God would “cut short” those days, for the SAKE of the elect!  Not necessarily for the sake of everyone who would suffer the tribulation, but rather, for the sake of God’s faithful children.



What was the Purpose for these Words of Jesus? 


In the next part of this study, we’ll look at WHY Jesus was telling His disciples about this great tribulation, and about the “abomination of desolation” spoken of here, and also prophesied about by Daniel, hundreds of years earlier.   And we’ll see why Jesus told those who are in Judea, to flee!


I hope that your interest has been awakened, and that you’ll go ahead and study with us further.

As always, I urge you to leave any comments or questions that you may have.  I’d love to hear from you and to be able to talk to you about this, or any other bible subject.

May God bless you in the study of His word.







This article has 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this informative post. This topic is something that I honestly would like to understand better. I know about the abomination that causes desolation and I’m familiar with the verse about the great tribulation. However, I want to understand these better in the light of my personal relationship with Christ, my mission in life and my relationship with others. I want to clearly see the connection and I want to know the call to action.

    1. Hello Cassia, thank you for your comments. This article, which is only the first part of the study about the tribulation, really focuses on the fact that the bible speaks of various tribulations. There are tribulations that we all face individually, and there are tribulations that specific congregations of God’s people face. And then of course the bible speaks of this world being full of tribulation for all of us. But the “great tribulation” spoken of in Mathew 24, and Mark 13, is a tribulation that as the bible says, “such as the world has never seen until now, and never will again”. This tribulation was one that a particular group of people were going to suffer through. And though that great tribulation is now past, the tribulations that everyone faces in this world will continue till the end of time.

      That’s where we come in.

      Our relationship to Christ is one of obedience to Him. That’s why He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:15. A relationship of disobedience is NOT what we want. To disobey God, is to sin. Jesus said in Mathew 7:23, “Then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice iniquity.” We’re told in Hebrews 5:9, “He became the author of salvation to all those who obey Him.” And we need to learn from the example of the nation of Israel, when we’re told in Hebrews 3:18, “And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?” And in the next verse, God calls disobedience, “unbelief”. Jesus tell us in Mathew 14:13, “It is the one who endures to the end who will be saved.”

      So our relationship to Jesus, and to God, is one of pure obedience to everything He has told us to do.

      And our mission in life is the very same for each and every one of us. It’s stated clearly in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the WHOLE of man.”

      What about our relationship to others? Our relationship to others is stated just as clearly by Jesus in Mathew 22:39, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” Jesus also told us in Mathew 25:40, “To the extent that you did it to one of these, My brethren, you did it to Me.”

      And the “call to action”? “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” Mathew 7:21. “And why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not DO what I say?” Luke 6:46. The “call to action” is to DO what God says to do! That is exactly what the bible calls us for, to DO His will.

      I realize that many people want to think that they have been “called” to do something “specific” for God. But God doesn’t get that specific in his word. He tells us what we need to obey, and He tells us what we need to stay away from, and it’s up to us all to obey these same words. There are many areas of service that a person could be involved in, and it’s really up to us to choose exactly HOW we can best serve God. Any service to God that is according to His word, is acceptable to Him. But we need to remember that just because WE think something might be a “good work”, if it isn’t according to what God has said in His word, it’s not necessarily His will. His will is determined by His word. We have His word, all we need to do is obey it.

      Thanks so much for visiting and for commenting. If I can help point you to the answers to any other questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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