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.
One of those fifteen times is in Revelation 7:14. Here’s the context surrounding that verse. It says in V-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.
Then it says in V’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 great” specifically means that this tribulation is unique and unlike any other. It is “the great” tribulation, not just another one of many, tribulations.
From the statement, “..They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”, we know for sure, that these are souls who have had their sins forgiven, and have been saved by the blood of Christ. And in this vision, these souls 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 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’t be only the souls of a specific generation. It must be the souls of ALL generations of people from the beginning of time till the end of time.
The point that I’m making is that these souls have come out of the “great tribulation of this world”. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“He who overcomes, shall thus be clothed in white garments..” Revelation 3:5 Those words were spoken to the congregation of Christians, in the city of Sardis, near the end of the first century. But those words 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 Rev 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.
The wording of these verses, does not allow for them to be interpreted to mean that those who were clothed in white, refers only to those from a specific generation of people. So these verses stand along with all the others in which the tribulation spoken of, refers to the trials and persecutions of this life, that all Christians will be subjected to. The tribulation spoken of in Rev 7:14, does NOT refer to a specific tribulation, which occurred ONLY during a specific period 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, 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. 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. But 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, the “abomination of desolation”, get out while you can!
Jesus 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 Dan 9:27, Dan 11:31, and Dan 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.”
The “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. But when Jesus spoke of the abomination and subsequent tribulation, a new covenant was in effect. This of course is the New Testament, which is “the new covenant in My blood”, Luke 22:20.
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!
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.