“These things I have spoken to you, that
in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have
tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 NKJV)
“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.” (Matt. 24:21 NKJV)
Every now and then I get a question from
someone who says even though the pre-trib position seems to make
sense scripturally, they can't accept it because Jesus said we
would have tribulation in this world, and that must mean the
church will go through at least the first part of the
Tribulation. When they say this they're thinking of the first 3
Let's get this straight.
There is no mention anywhere in the Bible of a seven year
tribulation. According to Strong's Concordance the Greek word
translated tribulation in these two passages appears 45 times in
the New Testament and tribulation is the English word of choice
in 21 of them,
including the two above.
It comes from a root meaning “to press” as grapes are
pressed. When used
metaphorically it can mean oppression, affliction, tribulation,
distress, hardship, or trouble.
But while tribulation is the word that appears in both
these verses, their intent is completely different.
What Does That Mean?
In John 16:33 Jesus said, in effect,
that becoming a believer doesn't mean your troubles are over.
Troubles are characteristic of this world and as long as you're
in it you'll have them.
But He has overcome this world and through faith in Him
you will over come it too.
He was referring to the fact that because of
our faith we can have peace even in times of trouble (Phil
because we know he's working everything in our lives together
for our good (Romans 8:28) and second because one day
this will all be over and we'll live in a state of eternal peace
and happiness with Him. Therefore we should focus on that world
not this one (2 Cor. 4:16-18). When you read the passage
in context you can see that John 16:33 is meant for the
entire Church Age and addresses individuals and our individual
A Different Matter
Matt. 24:21 is a different matter altogether.
First of all it applies to a specific period of time,
commencing on the heels of the abomination of desolation (Matt.
24:15) and ending just before the 2nd Coming (Matt.
Jesus prefaced the word tribulation with “great” saying nothing
like it has ever happened in the history of the world, or ever
will happen again.
From other references we know the Great Tribulation will last
for 3 ½ years and will be far more severe than anyone can
imagine. So much so that if the Lord doesn't return to put an
end to it, not a single human will survive (Matt. 24:22)
So as far as the Bible is concerned, there
are two kinds of tribulation.
The first is the general condition of our fallen
illness, persecution and other kinds of unfair treatment, and a
general state of uncertainty characterize our world.
These are facts of human life that to a greater or lesser
extent have impacted all human beings throughout the Age of Man.
This is the tribulation Jesus spoke of in John 16:33.
Of the 21 times the word tribulation appears in the New
Testament (KJV) 16 of them are in this context.
Then, there's the Great Tribulation.
Three and one half years of extreme judgments that will
fall upon just one generation, the one alive just before the
second coming. This
is the focus of Matt. 24:21 and just four other verses (Matt.
24:29, Mark 13:24, Rev. 2:22, Rev. 7:14)
. You can see that the conditions of the two kinds of
tribulation are very different. Whenever the word tribulation
appears it's referring to one of these two kinds and you know
which one the Bible has in view by looking at context in which
the word is being used.
But you'll never see it used to describe the seven years
just prior to the 2nd Coming.
Where Did That Come From?
So how did the idea of a seven year
tribulation originate? Well if it didn't come from God, it had
to have come from man.
In researching this, I was not able to discover who first
taught this, but I believe it started in the days when even the
most learned scholars didn't realize that Israel would be
reborn. Neither did
they understand that the Age of Grace didn't follow the Age of
Law but rather interrupted it seven years short of its
calling the last seven years by their Old Testament name,
Daniel's 70th Week, didn't make sense because doing
so implied that Israel would come back from the dead and play a
part in the End Times.
This is something most scholars believed would not
Even so there were seven years that had to be
The last three and a half were easy, Jesus
had already named them the Great Tribulation (Matt.
just left the first three and a half. These have been variously
called the beginning of sorrows or the false peace or the
tribulation period, but eventually scholars incorrectly began
calling the entire seven year period the tribulation with the
last half being the Great Tribulation.
Since the rapture takes place before the seven years
begin, it has also been incorrectly named.
Instead of being pre-trib, it's really pre 70th
So What's The Problem?
Other questions I've received concern the
effect of this incorrect interpretation.
“Why does it matter?” they ask.
It matters because it isn't Biblical.
And what's more it's confusing, as questions I get on the
End Times demonstrate.
Many people don't distinguish between the two uses of the
word tribulation and incorrectly use
John 16:33 and similar passages to deny the
For example, Acts 14:21-22 (KJV) is
another passage some times used to question the pre-trib
And when they
had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they
returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,
souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the
faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the
kingdom of God.
Paul and Barnabas were encouraging new
gentile converts to keep the faith in spite of the hardship and
persecution they were facing, in effect saying it was something
that should be expected as a result of their profession of
faith. Reading about
the current plight of Christians in places like India, Indonesia
and China shows us these things are still going on in the world.
Even in America we're becoming used to seeing two things our
constitution forbids. Persecution of Christians and promotion of
other religions. But
like it was in Paul's day this has nothing to do with the Great
Tribulation, and everything to do with religious persecution.
Also, referring to Daniel's 70th
Week (which concerns Israel) as the tribulation (which is world
wide) hides the fact that Israel and the Church can't co-exist
during that time.
Because of this, many Christians don't realize that during
Daniel's 70th Week God's focus will be on Israel,
with its Old Covenant Temple, animal sacrifice, keeping the
commandments and all things Jewish.
How can the dispensation of Law and the Dispensation of
Grace exist in the same place at the same time when the two are
Truth be told this is perhaps the most compelling reason
for a pre 70th Week rapture.
After We're Gone
In Romans 11:25-27 Paul said that
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number
of Gentiles has come in, but after that Israel will be saved.
The Greek word for hardening also means blinded.
This is a clear indication that God's unfinished business
with Israel won't be concluded until he's finished with the
Church. We know He
won't be finished with us until the rapture.
Israel will remain at least partly blinded to the truth, just as
Jesus warned would happen in Luke 19:41-44.
This sentiment was echoed at the Council of
Jerusalem when James disclosed that God would first take from
the Gentiles a people for Himself (the Church) and after that
would turn again to Israel (Acts 15:13-18).
In Greek the phrase translated take from literally means
“to take in order to carry away from” and is another reference
to the rapture.
These two passages of Scripture are not
widely used in defense of the pre-trib rapture because they
speak to the theology behind the Church's disappearance rather
than the event itself.
But they're extremely helpful in putting the missing week
of Daniel 9:24-27 in its proper perspective.
It's the remaining 7 years of God's assignment for Israel
to complete 6 tasks in preparation for the coming Kingdom, as
outlined in Daniel 9:24,
“Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your
people and your holy city 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 (place).”
The phrase seventy sevens means seventy weeks
of years, or 490 years. Some of these tasks were at least
partially completed in the 483rd year at the time of the
Israel's rejection of the Messiah stopped the clock 7 years
short of the total leaving the rest undone.
These 7 years are yet to be completed, but as Paul and
James both specified, the clock will not start running again
until the Church disappears. This is what makes knowing all
about Daniel's 70th Week so important to the Church. It helps us
understand why the rapture can't happen during any part of it.
The Bible is not a book of generalities, it's
a book of specifics.
Those last 7 years are missing and must be completed.
When you read the Bible literally, as was intended,
there's no sense in which they can be placed in the past.
They're part of the future and they're not called the
tribulation, they're called Daniel's 70th Week.