The “Great Tribulation” is not an uncommon event in the Christian calendar of God’s dealings with men. What is strange is the understanding of it. Most of us who grew up under dispensational and futuristic ideas of biblical endtimes are acquainted with the following;
That someday soon, Christ will return to the earth invisibly and snatch away all the Christians in an event known as the rapture.
After God has removed the Church, He will go back to dealing with Israel.
There will be a seven year period called the tribulation in which the earth and it inhabitants will be destroyed by God’s wrath.
At the end of the tribulation Christ will return and inaugurate the Millennium, a physical earthly kingdom.
At the end of the Millennium there will be a rebellion and Christ will come and destroy the wicked and the eternal state will begin.
Dispensationalists teach that after the Great Tribulation, all the terrible things in the book of Revelation will be poured out on this dark planet. The Jews are going to build a new temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish sacrifices will be reinstituted. Then, during this time, the strange beast of Revelation 13 will arise. They say this Beast will enter into the temple at Jerusalem and proclaim himself to be God. He will then put into the temple a statue of himself which they say will be “the abomination of desolation.”
If you look at that doctrine you will notice 3 comings of Christ and a resurrection of the Old covenant with Israel alongside with inconsistencies in the unfolding of prophecy which ignore Jesus own direct relation to these events as to be fulfilled in that generation.
Is the “Great Tribulation” something that looms in our future or is in a past event?
Is Matthew 24 talking about an event yet future or something that occurred in the time of the disciples?
If you have a close look at Matthew 24 you will see Jesus answering the disciples questions about the destruction of Jerusalem. This is a build up from chapter 21.
The discussion that Jesus had just had with the scribes and Pharisees took place inside the Temple grounds. As they departed from the Temple the words of Jesus were, “Your house shall be left to you desolate,”. This statement still echoed in their ears of the disciples.
They pointed out the buildings of the Temple and their glorious magnificence to Jesus. There was a reverence for the temple, even in distant parts of the empire that would make it a rare and unusual thought for it to be destroyed. This was a project that took 46 years for it to be completed.
In their curiosity and in private they wanted to know when it would be destroyed, and what signs would precede the end of the age and His parousia which is the actual greek word that was rendered as “coming”.
The following verses in Matthew 24 was Jesus response to their inquiry. He gave them a prophetic cast of the journey to the end of that Old covenant age that failed to produce the kind of fruits that the Father had desired. A series of events were to play out in labour pangs for the establishment of a new order.
In Luke 21:20 Jesus told them about the abomination of desolation that was fulfilled as the Roman army who would advance to come to destroy the temple. As he related the fulfillment of that great prophecy, Jesus talks about the great tribulation.
“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 (NKJV)
Notice the word “Then”. Then is when? a thousand years later? The “then” is referring to the context of verses 15-20; when you see the abomination of desolation, which Luke tells us is Jerusalem surrounded by armies.
The great tribulation was to take place during the “then,” during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century. The parallel of Luke’s gospel makes it so easy to see.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 “For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be GREAT DISTRESS in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be TRAMPLED by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24 (NKJV) Emphasis Mine)
Notice where and who in particular verse 23 says the tribulation or distress will come upon– “the land”, which is Jerusalem and “this people,” which refers to the first century Jews, not in our time or future.
Luke’s account makes us see that the great event would be the culmination of Bible prophecy concerning the Jews.
“For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. – Luke 21:22 (NKJV)
“All things which are written,” refers to prophecy. All prophecy was to be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. What prophecy? About the Jews and their temple as a consequence of the Messianic rule of Christ on earth.
Daniel seems to be source of many prophetic expectation back then for the Jews and even Jesus.:
“Seventy weeks are determined For YOUR PEOPLE AND FOR YOUR HOLY CITY, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24 NKJV Emphasis Mine)
Daniel was told that 70 weeks had been determined on his people Israel (not the whole world), and city Jerusalem. By the end of this prophetic time period, God related to Daniel six things would be accomplished.
One of the things that Daniel was told would happen by the end of that period was that God would “seal up vision and prophecy”. The Hebrew commentaries are in agreement on the meaning of to “seal up vision and prophecy” – it means the end and complete fulfillment of all prophecy in relation to the fate of the Jews.
Daniel’s prophecy, then, tells of the time when all prophecy would cease to be given and what had been given would be fulfilled. When would this be? Daniel’s vision ends with the destruction of Jerusalem which we know occurred in 70 AD:
“And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come SHALL DESTROY THE CITY AND THE SANCTUARY. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined. – Daniel 9:26 (NKJV Emphasis Mine)
So Luke is saying the same thing that Daniel said, which is that at the time Jerusalem is destroyed all prophecy will be fulfilled.
All prophecy being fulfilled would include the prophecy of the Second coming (arrival in Messiahship), the resurrection, the new heavens and earth, everything prophesied to Israel would be fulfilled at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction.
“At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a TIME OF TROUBLE, SUCH AS NEVER WAS SINCE THERE WAS A NATION, EVEN TO THAT TIME. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. – Daniel 12:1(NKJV Emphasis Mine)
This is similar to what Jesus said in his Olivet discourse:
“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 (NKJV)
The great tribulation was an event to confirm the second coming of Jesus according to Paul:
since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 (NKJV)
Paul also sees the destruction of Jerusalem, the days of vengeance as relevant with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The fulfillment of all prophecy, was tied up in Jerusalem’s destruction, making it an age changing event. It was indeed the end of the world from a Jewish perspective. Everything that summed up their identity, culture and living was gone up in flames.
The old heavens and earth of the world of Judaism were destroyed the new heavens and earth of a spiritual Israel were established. God made sure that the physical temple in Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, the genealogical records which qualified descendants of Aaron to serve as priests was burned and the city of Jerusalem fell.
The great tribulation was covenant judgment over Israel. It was a series of catastrophic events that befell a nation that the narration of it would put anyone into a sad state.
“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:” – Deuteronomy 28:15 (NKJV)
“And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.” – Deuteronomy 28:63 (NKJV)
The historical account of what transpired in AD70 comes from Josephus, a non-Christian Jew who wrote at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. In the preface to his writings “The War of the Jews,” Josephus said this, “Whereas the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that were ever heard of.” (PREFACE, Section 1)
In this he agrees with the words of Jesus that it was the most devastating thing that affected the Jewish people. It is just more than the fact that people died. All that transpired brought to a close to that Jewish age and it can’t be resurrected again. The Great Tribulation is behind us as an event in history. We now live in the endless age of the new covenant where the church, the body of Christ is the new heaven and earth. This is where righteousness dwells based on the finished work of Jesus.