These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.
-John 16:33 (NASB)
These are the last words of Jesus spoken to his disciples before his passion. In the Christian life we go through tribulation. Tribulation means troubles, trials, suffering, oppression, and affliction.
These are my notes from a 90 minute talk by Steve Gregg from 2019 titled, What is the Tribulation? These notes are not exhaustive. These ideas may be a little shocking to you if you have only been taught about the end times from one perspective and you had no idea there are other ways to look at it. Just like me, Steve is a former dispensationalist. Steve studied the Bible and outgrew his teachers.
Before we start, remember AID: Absolutes, Interpretations, and Deductions.
The deity of Christ is an absolute. To be a Christian, you must believe in the deity of Christ, which cults do not believe.
Next, there are “interpretations”. Baptism is an example. Different Christians believe in different ways of baptism, including not at all.
Next and finally, there are “deductions”. That speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is a deduction. The Bible does not clearly say this, but it is a deduction some have made.
Eschatology is mostly an assortment of interpretations and deductions. Don’t try to put Eschatology in the “absolute” category.
The dispensationalism perspective was invented about 150 years ago and was promoted and popularized through study Bibles that interpreted the Bible from an artificial dispensationalism grid. If you ask how could this man made teaching take off and become so popular, there are many possible answers, but one might be sensationalism.
A seven year tribulation time is something some Christians believe in, that they say will happen at the end of this age. This is something that is possibly a new teaching that emerged in the 19th century. And there is no mention of a seven year period in the book of Revelation, but periods of three and a half years are mentioned five times.
You have to assume the seven years and weave it together to make it real. In Daniel chapter nine, there are “seventy weeks” spoken of, and one has the make the interpretive leap that weeks are seven year periods and the seventieth week is the seven year tribulation, which is divided by two three and a half year periods. The assumption is a speculation not clearly taught by scripture.
The word tribulation occurs 27+ times in the KJV and NKJV. Are these ever referring to a specific time? Most of the time, tribulation refers to trials that Christians have.
Some Christians believe in “the rapture” occurring before, in the middle of, or after the seven year “great tribulation”. The rapture is taken from First Thessalonians and First Corinthians, and is a description of what happens at the second coming, at the end of the world. This is what the church has always believed.
Will Christ come and catch up in the sky to meet him, believers, at the end of the world, after a time when many bad things happen on the earth, inspired by Satan? This is a very possible and strong deduction we can make from scripture. But it does not have to be at the end of, in the middle of, or before a seven year period foretold, laid out, predicted, and time-lined.
Jesus does speak of a “great tribulation” in Matthew 24 and John picks up this same thing, calling it “the great tribulation” in Revelation 7. Is this the same tribulation? The Biblical evidence, without imposing an interpretive grid seems to suggest they are the same.
The book of Revelation is an epistle, a letter written by John to seven churches about current events, in their lifetime. John frames the whole book with the opening three verses:
The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.
To believe that the book of Revelation is primarily written to the church, about two thousand years later is a fantasy, a leap that defies logic. Two thousand years is not “soon”, or “near”! Why would John write this, if he meant thousands of years in the future?
Revelation 1:9 seems to confirm that the tribulation described in the book was contemporary:
I, John, your brother and partner in the affliction, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Affliction here is the same word translated tribulation. And notice the definite article “the”. If you don’t imagine that John means something he is not saying, but just let his words speak; he is talking to his first readers about a contemporary situation at hand.
Then in the last chapter, John again tells his first readers that the time for these things he has been telling them about is near:
Then he said to me, “Don’t seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.
What does “don’t seal it up” mean? It means that these things are going to happen soon. This is in stark contrast to how the book of Daniel ends, with the angel telling Daniel the opposite, “to seal it up”; that these things you have prophesied, Daniel, are going to happen way down the road, after you have died.
In Revelation 22, the Lord is telling John that his prophesies given here are not about the very end of the world, but are soon to take place. For Christians who are futurists, dispensationalists, this might come as a surprise or be a huge “head scratcher”.
Nowhere in Revelation does it say that these things are about the end of the world, the end times. You have to impose or assume that on the book.
The place where futurists get the 7 year tribulation is from Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks. In their paradigm, the first 69 weeks go up through Palm Sunday. When the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the “prophetic time clock” stops, until the 7 year tribulation in the future.
The “gap” of the 2000 years between week 69 and 70 is not in scripture nor even hinted at. It is a theory you have to impose or suppose onto scripture. There is no suggestion that there is a gap or pause at the beginning or end of the 70 weeks of Daniel.
The 70 weeks prophecy is about a timeline of God dealing with the Jews as a special people, uniquely: His people and the holy city, Jerusalem. The 70 weeks is straightforward, in a row. No mention of a pause.
Dispensationalism or Darbyism is imposed on scripture to teach this pause between week’s 69 and 70.
There is also no mention of tribulation, in Daniel’s 70 weeks, no mention of the last week being tribulation. No evidence that Daniel’s 70th week is “the seven year great tribulation laid out in the book of Revelation”. It is a system of thought (Darby, dispensationalism, The Scofield Bible) imposed upon the Bible. A strong value in dispensational teaching is, “we take the Bible literally”. But there literally is no gap or no pause in the 70 weeks. It is not there. Darby invented it and dispensationalists go along for the ride, accepting the theory as fact.