What does the Bible say about the ‘great tribulation’?

On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14.

For the latest version of this document, click here: www.biblepages.net/nta040.htm


Some preachers give long sermons about “the great tribulation”. All too often, they use that as a tool for controlling their followers through fear. Such preaching tends to contain things that are not biblical.

It is important to go to the Bible and find out what it actually says about the concept “great tribulation”. What is the timing of the tribulation- or persecution-periods which are mentioned in Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14, and what are they like? Also: Does Matthew 24 point to the events of the first century, or future events in what we today view as “end time”? What do the Scriptures really say about these things? This article takes a closer look at that matter.

A note: Many people have been caused to believe that the phrase “great tribulation” refers to a world war, or an attack by some nation against some other nation, or something similar. Also, many have been led to think that it is God who causes the tribulation. But, that is not what the Bible says. Clarification:

In the Greek text of the New Testament, the word in question is the noun thlipsis. In the NT, that word mostly refers to the persecution and other troubles that the saints were subjected to, by the Jews and by the Roman government, and by the world in general.

In many bible-versions, only three passages contain the words ‘great’ and ‘tribulation’ side by side.

Here are the passages in question:

Matthew 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. (AKJV)

Revelation 2:22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. (AKJV)

Revelation 7:14 […] And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (AKJV)

Also: In Acts 7:11, the Greek text contains a similar wording as in the above-quoted ones.

Acts 7:11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. (AKJV)

The wordings in the Greek text:

The word thlipsis alone, without megalê as a companion, occurs in many other places in the Greek NT text, totally in circa 43 passages. It refers to “persecution”, “affliction”, “trouble”, “anguish” and similar things.

And again: Most of the NT passages where the Greek text has the noun thlipsis, refer to troubles that the saints were subjected to. Examples: Acts 11:19 and 20:23, Romans 5:3, 2 Corinthians 1:4 and 8, 2 Corinthians 8:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:4.

The thlipsis megalê or great affliction which Acts 7:11 mentions, is an event of the past. It happened in the days of the patriarch Jacob. Here is another translation of that verse:

Acts 7:11 Now there was no food to be had in all Egypt and Canaan, and there was great trouble: and our fathers were not able to get food. (BBE, highlighting added)

Even the thlipsin megalên of Revelation 2:22 is an event of the past. That verse refers to things in connection with certain people who lived here on Earth in the apostle John’s day. [a]

Revelation 2:22 See, I will put her into a bed, and those who make themselves unclean with her, into great trouble, if they go on with her works. (BBE, highlighting added)

a If you have been subjected to the “church eras” dogma which claims that Revelation 2 and 3 refer to still future things, make sure to read the article naa030.htm. The Scriptures do not mention any such thing as “eras of the church”. It appears that the “eras” dogma was invented by the Baptist preacher William Miller (1782–1849).

Again: This with “great tribulation” has to do with the four NT passages where the Greek text contains the words thlipsis and megalê side by side. As was noted above, Acts 7:11 and Revelation 2:22 refer to things of the past. What do the two other passages, Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14, refer to? This article takes a closer look at that matter.

The origin of the word ‘tribulation’.

The word “tribulation” is “church Latin”, copied from the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version. For instance in Matthew 24:21, the Vulgate has tribulatio magna.

For various reasons, many bible-translators have copied that Latin word, instead of translating the Greek text of the New Testament into proper English. And then, over the centuries there have been formed many kinds of dogmas and misconceptions around the latinism “tribulation”.

The Latin noun tribulatio and the verb tribulo had the same meanings as the noun thlipsis and the verb thlibô which we find in the Greek NT text. Those words had to do with “press” and by extension also “oppression” and “affliction”.

The tribulation or persecution of Matthew 24:9 and 21, and its timing.

Revelation 7:14 is considered later in this article. Let us first take a look at Matthew 24.

As you read the scripture-quote below, please note that the word “you” in verse 9 refers to those whom Jesus was talking to there and then, in Judea, in the first century.

Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation [Greek thlipsin] and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 “But he who endures to the end shall be saved. (NKJV, comment added)

Keep in mind that this was something Jesus said to his disciples, people of those days. Later in the first century, that persecution came to happen, just as Jesus had foretold. Not only were the saints persecuted – by both the Jews and the Roman government – but even the Jewish nation was severely distressed and almost wiped out. Had not that time of persecution and troubles been cut short, it could be that not a single Jew would have been saved alive, in the land of Israel. (Some estimate that the Roman soldiers killed around three million Jews, around year 70 CE.)

Jesus made the timing clear. That particular persecution was to happen during the lifetime of those whom he was addressing. We read:

Matthew 24:21 “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. […] 34 “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (NKJV, highlighting added)

Verse 34, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” – again, Jesus was talking to people of the first century, in regard to what was to happen in Judea, during their lifetime. And, as was noted above, those things indeed happened. Around year 70, there was a horrible slaughter in the land of Israel when the Roman army killed countless Jews.

For various reasons, some have tried to explain away Jesus’ clear words (Matthew 24:34), and claimed that he did not mean what he said, when he said that those things were to happen during the lifetime of those whom he was talking to. But, Jesus did not lie to those people. When he told them that those things would happen during their lifetime, he meant precisely that. And, he certainly knew what he was talking about.

In short: The persecution or tribulation which Matthew 24:21 mentions, is an event of the past. Those things happened in Judea, in the first century. Also: When Jesus told his disciples that he would come for them, Matthew 24:29–33, he did not lie. He did come for them, and took them away, just as he had promised.

(Have you ever wondered what happened to the saints, why it is that they suddenly vanished from the scene, some time after the middle of the first century? The article nga040.htm has more on that matter.)

Revelation 7: In the future, there will be another time of great persecution.

The below-quoted passage in that chapter records a vision where the apostle John saw a huge, innumerable group of people, standing by the throne of God in Heaven. (Please note that that group has not been formed yet.) A time of great tribulation or persecution, in the Greek text tês thlipseôs tês megalês, is also mentioned.

Revelation 7:9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” 14 And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (NKJV, highlighting added)

Verse 14, “these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation” – that refers to the great multitude, see verse 9. (The article nta030.htm has some notes on the 144000 and the great multitude, and the difference between those two groups.)

Even the first-fruits group of 144000 (Revelation 14) was subjected to persecution, but that is past time, because that group consists of people who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century or earlier.

Please keep in mind that the great multitude which Revelation 7:9 mentions, has not been formed yet. A number of things indicate that that group will be formed during the 1260 days when the two witnesses do their work. (The articles nta010.htm and nta030.htm have some notes on this.)

So, even the great multitude will be subjected to persecution, just as the saints were.

Place of safety?

In some religious groupings which have “the great tribulation” as a central dogma, people have been told that if they remain as followers of the church or preacher in question, they will be taken to a “place of safety” somewhere here on Earth, while others will be subjected to “the great tribulation”.

But, those who have read the Bible, know that it does not mention any such earthly “place of safety”. The saints were subjected to intense persecution, and some of them were tortured and killed. There was no “place of safety” for them here on Earth. It was only in Heaven, that there was safety for them. It will be the same for the great, innumerable multitude. They will be subjected to persecution. But, even in their case, God will put an end to that persecution. The articles nta030.htm and nta010.htm have some notes on these things.

A note regarding the fate of the tribes of Israel in the ‘end time’.

Anglo-Israelist writers have claimed that the Anglo-Saxon people are “Israelites”, “the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh”. They have often quoted the words “the time of Jacob’s trouble” which many bible-versions have in Jeremiah 30:7, and claimed those words to mean that in the “end time”, the Anglo-Saxon people will be subjected to a “great tribulation”.

The article nya060.htm has some notes on Jeremiah 30:7, including its context and meaning. Regarding what biblical prophecy says about the fate and status of Israel’s “lost” tribes in our day, see the article nya010.htm.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → naa030.htm

What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm

Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → nta030.htm

The two witnesses of the book of Revelation. Also: Similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. → nta010.htm

Jeremiah 30:7, “the time of Jacob’s trouble”. What does chapter 30 in the book of Jeremiah really mean and refer to? → nya060.htm

The lost ten tribes of Israel in prophecy. → nya010.htm

Why does God allow evil, sickness, pain, war and suffering? → nwa010.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm


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