Definition of tribulation according to Webster’s: “distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution; a trying experience.”
The Tribulation and the Great Tribulation are all part of the study of eschatology (the End Times). In terms of the Bible, the tribulation is the seven-year time frame (note the number 7) when God will finish gathering his disciples from His chosen people (Israel) and judge all of the unbelievers. Believers will be exempt from this judgment (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 5:9), commonly known as the rapture.
The Great Tribulation refers to the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation. Revelation 13:5 designates the time the Beast will be in power as 42 months. Why the separation? In the Great Tribulation, the Beast or Antichrist will be revealed and God intensifies His wrath. Revelation 13-19 details God’s wrath on earth.
In the Tribulation there will be unparalleled suffering sent from God to earth for His purposes. This includes persecution of Christians by non-christians and in the Great Tribulation (the last 3 1/2 years) God will pour out his wrath on the ungodly.
Daniel is the first to reveal the tribulation in Chapter 9. “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people (the Jews) and your holy city (Jerusalem) to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy” (Daniel 9:24). Seventy sevens is 490 years (note the number 7 again).
Now here’s where it gets confusing. Most scholars agree that 69 of the 70 ‘sevens’ have passed (Daniel 9:25-26). This is 483 years, the exact time since the decree to build the Temple at Jerusalem until Jesus’s crucifixion. This leaves one 7 year period to come (the Tribulation). When is the question that is debated amongst scholars.
This leads us back to the differing views of eschatology: preterists, futurists, historicists, and idealists who all hold differing views of when the 7 years will occur and what exactly will happen during those 7 years.
The preterists believe the 7 year period has already happened around the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and it affected only the Jews.
The historicists like the preterists believe the tribulation has already happened as well; however, they believe it occurred when Rome fell from power in the Middle Ages. They use the term “the persecution of the Saints” instead of the term tribulation which was used in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.
Amongst the futurists, there is debate but in general they hold the 7 year period will begin when mankind is at its worst in terms of wars, poverty, and overall chaos and it will occur before Jesus’s Second Coming.
The idealists who generally believe Revelation is spiritual and not literal believe we are in tribulation now and dismiss the 7 year time period all together. We wage war spiritually every day against the devil.
In sum, the tribulation is the 7 year period when God will judge humanity, which has reached its peak of evil. Whether or not believers will face the tribulation is much debated and will be discussed in my next post along with the rapture.