The Harvest - #2
The Great Tribulation -- What, When, Who?
By Edgar Jones
The previous paper in this series explains, from the Lord's Words, that the end of the world of men is associated with a time of the harvest of the earth, or a harvest of the children of God. Like a net being dragged through the sea, the angels will come forth with Him and gather the nations, all of them, sort them (the good from the bad) as a shepherd sorts the sheep form the goats. Then he will receive the sheep on his right hand, bless them and give to them their inheritance in the kingdom. Those on his left are judged (Jesus, Matthew 25:31-46).
In the same context of the Eschatological Discourse we find our Lord speaking at that time of tribulation -- great tribulation -- to come. Through no fault of the Lord, these words are claimed by false prophets of the First Century and of our day to envision a Great Tribulation that is to come on all the earth during the end times. The false prophets, in devising their ideas about a future Great Tribulation, claim the support of the Lord's words but their primary sources are the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel. We will return to the Lord's Words, but first let us briefly define the character of these two documents.
The Revelation (the Book of)
The premier false prophet of the First Century is the scribe who penned the document known to us as the Book of Revelations, or "The Revelation of St. John the Divine." Modern false prophets go to this document for their prime inspiration, and specifically to these verses:
Rev. 7 (FNT)
13 And [one] of the elders answered saying to me: Who are these clothed in the white robes and whence have they come? 14 And I said to him: My Lord, you know. And he said to me: Those are those coming out of the great affliction and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the lamb. 15 Because of this they are before the throne of God, and they minister to him day and night in his temple, and the [one] having sat upon the throne will tent among them.
The highlighted words, great affliction are from the New Testament Greek, thlipseos tes megales (great affliction), which the Faithful New Testament more faithfully translates as affliction rather than tribulation, although either is acceptable. In any case, these words inspire many to vain visions of future never-events. They interpret the Lord's Words through this lens, or ignore them and merrily construct their false prophecies based primarily, or solely, from Revelation. This link will take you to a site that does exactly that.
But The Revelation of John exposes its fraudulent character in the very first verse, where we read:
[The] revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his slaves what [things] must swiftly come to pass, and he communicated [it], having sent [it] through his angel to his slave John, who testified of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, as much as he saw.
The high lighted words are a dead give-a-way, revealing the spurious character of the entire document. How sad, that so many millions are being deceived by this document that discredits itself in the opening verse. But there is more. We see this professed revelation again revealed for what it is in the last verses also, where we read:
The [one] testifying these [things] says: Yes, I come swiftly. Amen, be coming, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus [be] with [you] all.
Revelation is very solidly rooted in the faith of many Christians, who will not be impressed by this plain and simple exposure of its spurious nature. Others may desire more on this subject, for them I point to another paper on this site, Exposing Revelations.
Daniel (the Book of)
Modern False Prophets also lean on the Old Testament Book of Daniel in an effort to discern the significance of the supposed end time events. This document is also characterized by false prophecy, or more accurately, as history mascurading as prophecy. Up to about verse 11:39, it accurately protrays, as prophecy, the history of Israel from the Babylonian Captivity to near the end of the reign of the despot, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Thereafter the prophecy fails to accord with the history, which dates the final edition of the document to about 164-167 BC. One of the primary 'Great Tribulation" text is this from Daniel 12:1.
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.
Many interpreters see this 'time of trouble' as the 'Great Tribulation' of Revelation 7:14 and, combining prohecies from these two documents, Daniel and Revelation, come to their various doctrines of the Great Tribulation. But, as is the case of Revelation, the centuries have also discredited Daniel, whose history was perfect, but whose prophecy fails.
For more on Daniel as a false prophet, see this chapter from our short book on The Promise.
The false prophets of the Great Tribulation find other sources from the New Testament epistles, but Daniel and Revelation are their prime sources. Of course, they also call Jesus to the stand to give is testimony, which they grossly misinterpret. It is my position that Jesus is the only reliable source of prophecy of end time events, so we will need to turn to him to discern the Truth in his utterances, used and abused by the false prophets to point to their Great Tribulation end time event.
Jesus on the Great Tribulation
The utterances of the Lord most commonly applied to end times are contained in his Olivet Discourse, also known as the Eschatological Discourse and the Little Apocalypse. These utterances appear in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 and are the subject of this paper recently posted on this site. Here are the most pertinent verses (RSV).
The Great Tribulation in the Olivet Discourse
Of the above three references to a tribulation from this discourse, the first (Matt. 24:9) and the last (Matt. 24:29) apply to the second question concerning the time of his coming, or the Parousia. The middle one (Matt. 24:21) is the only one that speaks of a Great Tribulation, and this applies only to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, in the course of the Jewish War with the Romans. This is the tribulation that Jesus interprets as being that prophecied by Daniel, and he uses language similar to Daniel's to describe it.
Daniel described it thus (Daniel 12:1):
Jesus described it thus (Matt. 24:21):
And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time, but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.
It may appear to us, who were not there to witness that time of destruction and death, that this is a rather extreme description of the destruction of a single city and a temple. I refer you again to the referenced paper, where you will find the testimony of the historian, Josephus, who was there and saw it -- a first hand witness. It is very interesting to note that his description is similar to that of Jesus. I quote Josephus:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
It is therefore
impossible to go distinctly over every instance of these men's
iniquity. I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: - That
neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age
ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from
the beginning of the world.
And what was sown on the rocky soil, this is the one hearing the word and immediately receives it with joy, but it has no root in him, but is transitory, so when trouble or persecution comes to pass because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
It is the same as the tribulation (trouble, distress, affliction, etc.) that Jesus specifies in the Fourth Gospel (Jn. 16:33):
These [things] have I spoken to you in order that you have peace in me. In the world you have affliction, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.
Tribulation, affliction, distress (the same word in the N.T. Greek) is the usual lot of true disciples in the world. The Jews (and disciples who remained in Jerusalem in 70 AD) experienced a terrible "great tribulation." This is the only great tribulation in the teaching of our Lord.
If we search the Lord's Words for prophecy of a great tribulation as a distinct event in the history of the world other than the Jerusalem disaster of AD 70, we cannot find it. He made no such prophecy. Had he done so, and we were informed thereby to be warned of such an experience associated with his return at the Parousia of the Son of Man, he would have contradicted himself, which he did not do.
He would have contradicted this, another of his prophecies (Matt. 24:42-44, FNT):
Be watching therefore, for you know not what day your Lord comes. But this you know that if the master of the house knew in which watch the thief comes, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also become ready, for in which hour you do not suppose the son of man comes.
Now, if he had told us of a great tribulation that was to signal his return or otherwise give us warning, we would be looking for him and expecting him. As it is, he has plainly stated that his return will be at an hour you do not suppose.
There is one more item of confirmation. In the same context -- the same discourse -- as this in which he clearly informs us that his return as Son of Man will be at an hour we do not suppose, he also has this prophecy (Matt. 24:7-14, FNT):
For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in diverse places. All these [things] are the beginning of birth-pangs. Then they will give you over to affliction and they will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations because of my name. And then many will be stumbled and they will betray each other and will hate each other. And many false prophets will rise and will deceive many. And because lawlessness shall abound, the agape-love of many will grow cold. But the [one] having endured to the end, this [one] will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as [a] witness to all the nations, and then will the end come.
Precisely as he foretold, many false prophets are arising and they are deceiving many!
Have I permitted you to forget the quesions that are addressed here? They are, concerning the Great Tribulation, What? When? and Who?
What is it?
When will it take place?
Who will experience it?
Listening to Jesus, as we have here, who foretold all things beforehand (Mk. 13:23 FNT --
I have foretold you everything.), we have learned these things in answer to these questions:
What is the coming Great Tribualtion? It is not!
When will it take place? Never!
Who will experience it? No one.
Also, the Lord knows how to deal with false prophets at the proper time.