Articles, Prophetic Articles, The Tribulation


A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Recently I was reading a new book on Revelation by an author who subscribes to the pre-wrath rapture position. I don’t recommend this or any other mid-trib, pre-wrath, or post-trib book. I only read them myself because my belief in the pre-trib position is solid enough to not be shaken, and I feel the need to know about the current thinking on other positions in case I’m asked.

When you depart from a literal, contextual interpretation of Scripture, as you have to do when you’re trying to justify the other rapture positions, anything becomes possible. For that reason some of these books, like the one I just read, are so far off the mark as to be ludicrous. But there are two things they all seem to have in common. One is their confusion about the difference between tribulation and the Great Tribulation and the other is the meaning and duration of the phrase “wrath of God.”

Here are some examples of what I mean. In John 16:33 Jesus said, In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart because I have overcome the world.” This verse is often used to refute the pre-trib belief that the church will not be present during the end times judgments. “After all,” they say, “Jesus said we will have tribulation in this world.”

Another is 1 Thes. 5:9 where Paul said, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here they say the wrath Paul was taking about is not the end times judgments associated with the Day of the Lord, which is the context of the passage, but the eternal punishment to be endured by non-believers. They say that’s the only wrath our salvation protects us from.

So lets take a closer look at these two words as they pertain to the end times and see what the Bible says about them.


In English, the word “tribulation” appears 22 times in the Bible. Three of them are in the Old Testament, although the Hebrew word from which it is translated can be found 105 times, having a number of different meanings. The other 19 are in the New Testament, but there are also 26 times where the Greek word is translated in different ways as well, for a total of 45. In both testaments the other meanings are similar; distress, affliction, trouble, etc.

The phrase “great tribulation” makes only three appearances, all in the New Testament (Matt. 24:21, Rev. 2:22, and Rev. 7:14). In its first one the Lord actually coined the term, identifying its beginning as the time when the abomination of desolation occurs.

So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress (tribulation), unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matt. 24:15-21).

A few verses later He said it would end just before the 2nd coming.

Immediately after the distress (tribulation) of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).

Daniel 9:27 tells us the anti-Christ will set up an abomination of desolation in the middle of the 70th Week (Daniel 9:27), or 3 ½ years from its end. It’s the same event Jesus identified as the sign that the Great Tribulation will have begun. This tells us the Great Tribulation will have a duration of 3 ½ years.

Daniel also made reference to the Great Tribulation in Daniel 12:1 when he wrote,

At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress (tribulation) such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”

Notice that Daniel’s words are very similar to the ones Jesus used in Matt 24:21. The phrase “at that time” refers back to Daniel 11:36-45 where the angel was telling Daniel about the reign of the anti-Christ. For these reasons, it’s safe to assume that Daniel and Jesus were talking about the same thing. In fact, Jesus confirmed this in Matt. 24:15.

Put together, these references identify the Great Tribulation as a specific period of time with an identifiable beginning and end. That makes this 3 ½ year period distinct from the periodic times of tribulation that believers experience in this world. Daniel and Jesus both said this time of tribulation would be the worst the world has ever seen. Jesus said it has never been equaled before and would never be equaled again, and if He didn’t return to put an end to it no one would survive (Matt. 24:22). This is definitely not the every day variety of tribulation you and I face in life. This is the one and only Great Tribulation.

And Wrath

The word “wrath” also has a general as well as a specific meaning, and again the two are differentiated by time. When used in connection with God, the word “wrath” appears in 18 verses of the Old Testament and usually describes God’s feelings toward Israel during their periodic times of disobedience.

In the New Testament there are 16 verses where wrath appears in connection with God. Some of them refer to the eternal destiny unbelievers will face after they die and others are about the end times judgments. We can tell which is which by the context in which they are used. Here are some examples.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36).

In this verse the context is eternal life. Those who believe in the Son will receive it but those who reject Him will not receive it for God’s wrath remains on them. There are only two possible dispositions for mankind, eternal life and eternal punishment. Belief in the Son brings life, and rejection of the Son brings punishment. Only one generation of mankind will experience the end times judgments, but John 3:36 pertains to all mankind. Therefore the Lord had to be using God’s wrath in reference to eternal punishment here.

Now lets take the example we used earlier from 1 Thes. 5:9. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul began chapter 5 by talking about the timing of the Day of the Lord. He said the world would not know the day or hour in advance, and that it would come like a thief in the night (1 Thes. 5:2). At a time when people are saying “peace and safety” it will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thes. 5:3).

By this we know Paul was not talking about the actual day of the Lord’s return, because earlier we learned that He will come to put an end to the worst period of devastation the world has ever known, not while people are thinking peace has come. And from other passages we know that Daniel’s 70th week will begin with a perception of peace (Daniel 8:25) which will quickly be replaced by war. Therefore Paul’s reference to “peace and safety” points to the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week, not the actual day of the Lord’s return.

He said believers should not be surprised by this, and changed his narrative from the third person (they) in verse 3 to the second person (you) in verse 4. He did this to distinguish between the unbelieving world, who will be surprised, and the believers, who won’t. Being sons of the light (having the knowledge of Scripture) we will be able to see the signs of its approach, and when we do we should be awake and alert. After expanding on that thought (Vs. 5-8) he came to verse 9. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.“

Obviously, believers will not suffer the eternal wrath of God that awaits unbelievers. But the context of 1 Thes. 5:1-9 is the Day of the Lord, when the end times judgments will fall upon an unbelieving and unsuspecting world. That’s the wrath Paul was talking about.

So, just like we can differentiate between the periodic times of tribulation we all experience and the Great Tribulation which will be the single worst thing ever to happen on earth, we can also differentiate between the eternal wrath of God to be visited on all unbelievers after they die, and the time of God’s wrath, the end time judgments that will come upon one generation of unbelievers before they die, and which will have a discernible beginning and end.

Is It Time Yet?

Now lets look at the time of God’s wrath.

Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Isaiah foresaw a time when God will pour out His wrath on earth for a period of time he describes as lasting “a little while.” Therefore this passage is not about His eternal wrath against all unbelievers who have died, but is a specific period of time against one generation of unbelievers who will still be alive. And like Paul, he separated believers from unbelievers by changing from the second person (your rooms) to the third person (their sins).

The angel Gabriel gave Daniel similar information, saying, “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end” (Daniel 8:19). Starting with an overview of the kings of Medo-Persia and Greece the angel quickly focused in on the days of the anti-Christ during the time of wrath at the end of the age (Daniel 8:19-25).

These passages identify a specific period of time at the end of the age when God will visit His wrath upon the unbelieving world.

In the past many commentators have identified this period as being the time of the bowl judgments of Rev. 15-16. That’s because in Rev. 16:1 these judgments are called “the seven bowls of God’s Wrath.”  But the Bible does not say the time of God’s Wrath begins with these judgments. In fact in Rev. 15:1 we’re told that with the bowl judgments God’s wrath will end. If that gives us the ending point then where do they begin?

The answer can be found in Rev. 6:16-17 where the kings of the earth realize that with the seal judgments the great day of God’s wrath has begun.

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

The KJV renders Rev. 6:17 as For the great day of His wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” Based on this, some people see a difference between the wrath of the Lamb, which only appears in Rev. 6:16, and the wrath of God. But the majority of English versions translate the Greek word “autos” in the plural, as happens over 300 times in the New Testament, and translate Rev. 6:17 as “the great day of their wrath has come.” Since both Father and Son are in view in Rev. 6:16 and since the two are one (John 10:30) this seems to fit the context better.

Also note the past perfect tense of the phrase “the great day of their wrath has come”. The past perfect tense is used to describe an action that has taken place at a specific time in the past. From the preceding judgments of Rev. 6 the kings of the earth will realize that they are already in the period known as the Wrath of God. Therefore, the time of God’s wrath begins with the seal judgments of Rev. 6 and ends with the bowl judgments of Rev. 16 and will occupy most, if not all, of Daniel’s 70th Week

Many commentators insist that God’s wrath is the worst part of a time they call the seven year tribulation period, making God’s wrath synonymous with the Great Tribulation. But as we can see, it’s actually the other way around. The Great Tribulation is the worst part of the time of God’s wrath.

When Jesus spoke of the Great Tribulation in Matt. 24:21 He was referring to the bowl judgments of Rev. 16 because these are the only judgments that will take place in the second half of Daniel’s 70th Week, after the anti-Christ sets up the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27). The bowl judgments are the third and final series of judgments that God will execute upon the earth during the time of His wrath.

So there you have it. In the Bible, tribulation and the Great Tribulation are not the same, and God’s eternal wrath and the time of God’s wrath are not the same. These terms are only confused in the minds of people who advocate something other than the pre-trib rapture of the Church. That’s what the Bible says. 03-07-15



A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

NOTE: This Popular Post From The Past is a response to numerous questions I’ve received lately from people who have become confused about the timing and duration of God’s Wrath.

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17).

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed (Rev. 15:1).

For 20 centuries various forms of the phrase “Wrath of God” brought one image to mind and that was the period of end times judgments that immediately precede the 2nd Coming. But lately it has begun to mean different things to different people. At the same time phrases like the Wrath of the Lamb, the Wrath of Man, and the Wrath of Satan have also crept into the discussion. In addition, some have begun speaking of a period of judgment they call the Wrath of God which is not mentioned in the Bible. They say it comes right after the 2nd Coming. Others have even said the Wrath of God refers to the eternal punishment that follows the Millennium.

So What Is The Wrath Of God?

From the Revelation quotes above we can see that it’s a period of judgment that begins during the seal judgments of Rev. 6 and ends with the bowl judgments of Rev. 16-18. When some form of this phrase appears in the New Testament it’s almost always in reference to the end time judgments.

If that’s the case what are these other so-called periods of wrath we hear about?

The Wrath of the Lamb comes from Rev. 6:16. The very next verse, Rev. 6:17, tells us it’s also God’s Wrath which makes sense because in John 10:30 Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

The Wrath of Man is a phrase that doesn’t appear in the Bible, but some commentators have used it to describe what has traditionally been called the first four Seal Judgments of Rev. 6, also known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Again, this is part of God’s wrath. The four horsemen symbolize the initial appearance of the anti-Christ and his efforts to gain control of the world through conquest (Rev. 6:2).

The Wrath of Satan comes from the King James version of Rev. 12:12 where Satan is described as having great wrath because he’s been kicked out of heaven and knows he has only a short period of time to accomplish his goal of conquering Earth. His expulsion from heaven will happen at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, shortly before the Bowl judgments that complete God’s Wrath are unleashed against him and his followers. So you see, Satan is not the author of this final series of judgments but is their target. The Greek word used of Satan’s wrath is “thymos” and while it sometimes refers to God’s wrath as well, “orge” is the word normally used in connection with God’s Wrath. The difference between the two words as they’re used here is that God’s wrath is the origin of judgment while Satan’s wrath is the reaction to judgment.  Simply put, people who use the term “Satan’s wrath” are really talking about the Great Tribulation.

The judgments that immediately follow the 2nd coming are described in Matt. 24:45-25:46. They will determine who among the survivors of the Great Tribulation will be welcomed into the Millennial Kingdom on Earth. All unbelieving survivors will be taken off the planet at that time. The 2nd Coming, the judgments of Matt. 24-25 and preparations for the Kingdom Age will be completed in the first 75 days from the end of the Great Tribulation (Daniel 12:12).  No portion of this time is ever referred to in the Bible as the time of God’s Wrath.  It’s only done by pre-wrath rapture advocates.

The same is true of the Great White Throne judgment of Rev. 20:11-15. At the end of the Millennium the unbelieving dead from all ages will be gathered for their final judgment. Anyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life will be thrown into the Lake of Fire for eternal punishment. The Great White throne judgment is never referred to as God’s Wrath in the Bible.  Some people who don’t believe in the pre-trib rapture this in an effort to deny Paul’s promises in  Romans 5:9, 1 Thes. 1:10, and 1 Thes. 5:9 that the Church would not be present for the time of God’s wrath.

From these and other passages we can safely conclude that New Testament references to God’s Wrath overwhelmingly describe a specific period of judgment upon the post rapture world, beginning early in Daniel’s 70th Week and ending just before the 2nd Coming. His Wrath consists of three named sets of judgments and and possibly an additional one that God has kept secret.

Three Sets Of Judgments

The first set of named judgments is called the Seal judgments because they occur as Jesus opens seven seals on a scroll the Father will hand Him. They’re described in Rev. 6 as a period of time beginning with the perception that peace has come to Earth and ending with the realization that God’s Wrath has begun. In writing about this time Paul said, “When people are saying ‘peace and safety’ destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thes. 5:3). The first six Seal Judgments will bring war, famine, plague and death to 1/4th of the world along with massive martyring of post rapture believers.

The seventh Seal is not a judgment in and of itself but introduces the second named series, called the Trumpet Judgments (Rev. 8:4-9:21). As seven angels blow their trumpets in turn, the sound of each trumpet will introduce another judgment. This series of judgments will combine natural with supernatural attacks upon humanity and by the time they’re finished a third of the earth’s forests and fields will be ablaze, a third of the sea creatures will have died, a third of Earth’s water supply will have been contaminated, and a third of the people who survived the seal judgments will have died.

After the sixth Trumpet judgment an unnamed event will be visited upon the Earth. At a signal from a mighty angel seven thunders will speak, and although John was forbidden from telling us what they will say, scholars speculate that it might be an unannounced judgment of some kind (Rev. 10:1-4). This is the secret God has kept that I mentioned above.

The blowing of the 7th Trumpet will announce the commencement of the Lord’s reign over Planet Earth (Rev. 11:15-18). War in Heaven will result in the permanent expulsion of Satan and his angels (Rev. 12:7-12). Having been confined to Earth, Satan will indwell his man, the anti-Christ, and will cause him to announce from the Temple in Israel that he is God (2 Thes. 2:4). Jesus said this will kick off the Great Tribulation, the worst disaster the world ever has or ever will suffer. He warned the Jewish people who will be living in Israel at the time to immediately flee for their lives (Matt. 24:15-21).

This will take place in the middle of Daniel’s 70th Week and at this point the full force of God’s wrath will be loosed upon Satan and his followers in the final series of judgments (Rev. 16-18). They’re called the Bowl judgments because they’re symbolized by angels pouring out seven bowls of God’s Wrath upon the Earth. The power of these judgments and the devastation they cause is beyond description. Jesus was correct in saying that if He didn’t stop them at the appointed time, not a single human being would survive (Matt. 24:22).

I believe one effect of these judgments will be to complete the demolition phase of the Earth’s restoration, which Jesus spoke of in Matt. 19:28, Peter confirmed in Acts 3:21 and John described in Rev. 21:1. For example Revelation 16:16-21 speaks of the worst earthquake the world has ever experienced causing every mountain to fall down, islands to disappear, and the cities of the nations to be destroyed, while 100 lb. hailstones bombard the Earth. Believe me when I say you wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy.

Much of the world’s remaining population will die during this time, but because of it the Earth will be ready for restoration to the condition it was in when Adam was created. This will happen at the time of the 2nd Coming (Acts 3:21).

What About Us?

Paul made it clear that the Church will not be present on Earth during any of this time of judgment. In Romans 5:9  Paul said, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s Wrath through it?”   In 1 Thes. 1:10 he wrote that Jesus will rescue us from the coming wrath. (The Greek word translated from in both these verses refers to both the time and place of the coming wrath, so we won’t be present when it happens and we won’t be present where it happens.)  He will do this because God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 5:9).

If you believe you’re a sinner, but that God sent His Son to die for your sins, and if you’ve accepted His death as having paid their full penalty, then you won’t have to face any of these judgments. One day soon, you’ll disappear with the rest of us and will be in Heaven with the Lord while all this is happening on Earth.

You’ll see that your decision to believe in what the Lord did for you was the defining moment of your life and you will understand that it made you into one of the world’s ultimate winners. You’ll realize this is what God always intended for you to do and you’ll know why the Heavenly Host is erupting into joyous celebration as you come into the presence of the Lord. If you listen carefully you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 09-28-13

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